Adaptation: Christine Mary Dunford from the book by Lisa Genova
Director: David Grindley
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
Faithfully capturing Lisa Genova’s novel, Christine Mary Dunford’s adaptation of Still Alice continues to show the comprehensive empathy surrounding early on-set Alzheimer’s. A serial narrative, flowing through the discoveries of diagnosis, to the eventual succumbing to fractured memories. Strung together with a dual-performance from Sharon Small as Alice, Eva Pope as Herself (Alice’s cognitive conscious). Here is what drives the performance. Small and Pope, fractured but understanding attempting to navigate the illness whilst keeping her dignity.
Alice was, is a Harvard Professor of Cognitive Psychology and Linguistics. These sorts of slip-ups, past or present tense, when utilised in the text’s language, set it apart from similar productions. The subject matter entices people to take a sharp intake of breath, to stand still on eggshells. As Alice contemplates suicide, her dignity and faculties all but robbed, there’s a burst of anxious laughter as her husband unsuspectingly wanders into the unfolding discord.
Extensive praise must be offered to Wendy Mitchell and Nicky Taylor, the consultant on living with dementia and research associate for Leeds Playhouse. With their insight, Small has captured an accurate performance which eases people into the subject. The subtle movements in her hands as her brain ticks around for the answer. To the entire physicality in the performance by the closing moments. Pope, as Herself works to reinforce Small’s ability whilst somehow being her own character. A vapour-like approach to her movements develops, as she struggles to maintain Alice’s concentration. Betraying herself as her lifeline, a phone is hidden. Embodying the aggressive frustration that whilst screaming out the memories, Alice still doesn’t seem to recollect any of them.
There’s a persistent theme of time running through this evening, as Alice succumbs more to her memory loss the stage too gradually fades. At first, the plethora of pieces – the kitchen, doctor’s office and small café begin to dwindle. The memories of which die out along with Alice’s cognitive recollection of their existence. Until we’re left with two chairs on the vast open space, Alice left alone with her unrecognisable husband John.
Together with Small, Martin Marquez delivers a cripplingly true performance as John. The stories of those who care, those who are left behind to provide also have lives to share. John (Marquez) faces an excruciating choice, to further his career at the cost of disrupting Alice’s routine, vital to maintaining her condition.
The one-act structure focusses our attention. The omission of an intermission avoids breaking the tension. Its decision is clever, reinforcing the escalation the disease has the further it progresses. The speed too in which it becomes aggressive, but it does come at the cost of expansion in needed areas. Clocking in at just over 90 minutes, one would expect Still Alice to have a concise view of the subject matter. For those diagnosed with the condition, time is everything – from discovery to receding memories. To the contrary, it highlights the few flaws present in the production. Namely the lack of development for Alice’s children, particularly Thomas who comes across as one dimensional.
Progressive involvement is vital for sufferers of early on-set Alzheimer’s. An open discussion, without skirting the edges of awkwardness. David Grindley has directed a piece which opens the channels a little more, highlighting the difficulties not just for the individual but those around. Gloriously adapted, with Sharon Small delivering an acutely raw, humane performance.
Runs until 29 September 2018 | Image: Geraint Lewis