Director: Matthew Dunster
Reviewer: Jacqui Onions
National Theatre Wales and Wales Millennium Centre take on the difficult subject of dementia in their new play Before I Leave – and they do it with empathy, humour and love.
This topic is huge and Patrick Jones’ script tackles it from as many angles as possible without ever feeling like there is too much going on. The different forms of dementia, how it manifests itself in different ways, the psychological effects, the effects on loved ones, how it can leave a person vulnerable to others – it’s all in there and more. Although one or two of the characters’ storylines feel a little rushed towards the end, the audience is left wanting to know more and to continue learning about these people and their lives – and that can only be a good thing.
Dementia is indiscriminate in who it takes hold of and Before I Leave highlights this in a rather poignant way; uniting these people from all walks of life through a common love of music, and not just the dementia label. Based on the story of a community choir for people with dementia – inspired by Cwm Taf choir in Merthyr – music is a hugely important part of this play and is used to great effect. As well as featuring plenty of well-known songs that spark memories and feelings in everyone, an original theme runs through the piece and has been brilliantly crafted by Nicky Wire and James Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers.
The attention to detail in the set, designed by Anna Fleischle, really helps to transport the audience fully into the world of the choir. Rather than the stage just being set up as the room in the library where the choir rehearse, as you would expect, the set has far more depth to it and you can see through the doors into the room, out into the foyer of the library. Realistic touches like this make a big difference. Projection, by Dick Straker, fits into the set almost seamlessly to create the worlds of the characters outside of the choir.
The cast all have challenging roles to tackle and they rise to this challenge to create a near perfect performance. Desmond Barrit is very engaging as the retired police officer, Evan. The gradual descent in his condition is pitched perfectly and the blurred lines between the dementia and the stress of his family situation are skilfully portrayed to the audience. With the smallest of facial expressions or gestures, he can deeply move the audience. In a late change to the original casting, Olwen Rees gives an endearing and humorous performance as Isabelle; you cannot help but love this lovely, if confused, old lady.
You will laugh, you will cry and you will definitely be touched by Before I Leave.
Runs until 11 June 2016 | Image: Farrows Creative