Writer: Erik Gedeon. (Adapted by Giles Croft and Stefan Bednarczyk)
Director: Giles Croft
Musical Director: Stefan Bednarczyk
Choreographer: Adele Parry
Reviewer: Janet Jepson
It’s almost ominous, rather reminiscent of a ghost story, as a slow, heavy thudding becomes audible … but it’s only old Mr Bednarczyk hobbling in leaning heavily on his Zimmer frame. One by one he’s joined onstage by his ‘partners in crime’, all aged, infirm, retired performers, destined now to spend the rest of their seemingly miserable lives in a nursing home for actors, presided over by an unsympathetic, threatening Sister George. It’s almost tempting to wonder where on earth this performance of Forever Young at the Doncaster CAST Theatre can go with such a line-up, especially when Sister whistles them to attention and urges them on to sing gentle ditties like nursery children.
But as always in good theatre, appearances are deceptive, and once the door is closed behind their oppressive jailer, the old ‘uns take on new life! ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ belts out and the tiara-wearing Ms Little stands up and dances in her armchair, while scruffy Mr Elkington (surely he was Worzel Gummidge in a former life?) falls completely off the stage in his enthusiasm. Fortunately by now, the fishbowl – complete with plump goldfish, but a decreased amount of water – that Mr Frater staggered in with, is safely on the table. Safe for now anyway … The ensuing tussle to pull the unlucky Mr E back up onto the stage is hilariously like watching a group of kids re-enact the story of that giant turnip.
The set is brilliant, backed by a theatre safety curtain decorated by stylised portraits of celebrities from the past. Is that Brian Blessed? – oh, and maybe Dora Bryan? The props and furniture are of a cosy, eclectic type that appeals to old people, because of the familiarity. There’s an assortment of odd chairs, a couple of moth-eaten stuffed toys, a feather duster, and not forgetting Mr E’s metal trunk complete with such items as a trumpet, a spliff and an Izal toilet roll. The costumes are perfect, slightly eccentric as they should be. Mr Bednarczyk, Mr Frater and Mr Superville (played by their namesakes with the forenames Stefan, Tim and Dale) are still wearing their suits – even though Mr F is sporting his striped PJ trousers with his. Ms Little (Rebecca) has an elaborate lace dress and a dead fox complete with head and tail around her neck, while Ms Darcy (Clara) is clad in an old-lady cardie and flowery skirt. Then of course there’s the flatulent tramp Mr Elkington (John), who probably got his outfit from a scarecrow, and formidable Sister George (aka Georgina White) in her white surgical coat – get it?
As this talented group from the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company romps through such varied numbers as ‘Light my Fire’, ‘I Shot the Sheriff’, ‘Scarborough Fair’, ‘Barbie Girl’ and ‘I will Survive’ the audience begins to ‘Imagine’ (yes, another one) what it will be like to grow old. The loss of dignity – pure, silent horror as Ms Darcy’s wig is accidentally swept off; the loss of once rebellious piercings to catheters; and the demeaning allocation of small measures of alcohol. The cast members are amazingly athletic in appearing so frail, and maybe the only criticism is that this is slightly overdone at times.
Yes, try to catch Forever Young while it’s fresh. Avoid the goldfish’s fate and keep dancing because in the immortal words of Mr E, “we all have something in common, we will all hopefully grow old” and we need to prove that ‘we shall overcome’. They manage that in a very funny, yet moving and poignant fashion, giving hope to us all!
Runs until: Saturday 28 February 2015
Photo Credit: Robert Day