Writer: Lisa Genova
Adaptor: Christine Mary Dunford
Director: David Grindley
Reviewer: James Eves
‘While I may not remember this, I hope the reason for doing it is something that is remembered.’
These words echo as Still Alice follows the mental decline of Alice Howland, a successful Harvard University professor, as she is diagnosed and suffers from a form of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as how this affects her family and how they interact both with her and one another as time progresses. The story is told in a ‘fly on the wall’ style format, with us, the audience experience time jumps of up to months at a time.
In these jumps, we see how much things have progressed with the family, but more importantly, how Alice’s mental state is declining as time goes on, and she becomes less and less of the woman we meet at the start of the play. It’s a visceral and very useful way to tell the story as it doesn’t keep us in one spot, rather it keeps us in the loop, up to date and fully immersed in what is going on throughout.
Having said that, it takes a while to really get into the meat of this play. This is mainly due to two things. The first of these is that from a tone and pacing perspective, the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the play are quite long and drawn out, leading into the second reason why this is so, which is because it takes this long to exposit all of the information we’re going to need about these characters moving forward. The play does well not to buy into the usual tropes of just saying what each characters life is like at this point and instead we are just shown them at the point they are now. There isn’t much that can be done about this and the payoff for the rest of the play is well worth the wait, however, these opening few minutes can make the piece feel like quite a drag and make you wonder just what it is that you’ve come to see.
When the story does get traction though, it works well for the most part. It’s competent in its storytelling abilities, taking guidance from the novel of the same name, and does well to treat its subject matter with respect and even more so, create human characterisations with human responses and interactions. In fact, it does this so easily it almost becomes unnoticeable. There are still a few points where things could be sped up or certain plot threads don’t really lead anywhere but such is the nature of the play, not everything is tied up in a nice little bow by the end because in real life anything barely ever is.
The performances within the show do well to do the script and subject matter justice as well. We believe the family relationship dynamics and we are able to believe that Alice has manifested a portion of her consciousness into a body that only she can see and interact with because when you start to lose that part of yourself it’s nice to have someone always with you who knows what you’re going through.
Sharon Small as Alice shines in her role, creating the character with such ease that it makes it look almost too easy. This is no way an easy character to perform as and the skill and depth she has put into her role shouldn’t be overlooked, it’s carefully crafted and beautifully performed. Martin Marquez also performs solidly as her husband John. At times, he is shone in an almost antagonistic light, making it easy for an actor to fall prey of making him the one holding Alice back. But Marquez however, performs him with such a human truth, that we see it’s not only Alice losing herself to Alzheimer’s, but that he too is losing his wife and is choosing to suffer in silence.
Though suffering from a lack of traction at the start and still has a few issues with text pacing throughout, Still Alice finds its traction in committed performances and not only highlighting the struggles that face someone with Alzheimer’s but the identities we hold as humans and how important memories can be.
Runs until 10 November 2018 l Image: Geraint Lewis.