DramaReviewSouth East

Still Alice – Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford

Writer: Lisa Genova

Adaptor: Christine Mary Dunford

Director: David Grindley

Reviewer: Alice Fowler

Alice and John Howland are a high achieving professional couple, both academics at Harvard University. Does Alice have the edge intellectually? Perhaps.

But 50-year-old Alice is starting to forget words – nothing serious, and it’s probably just the menopause. Then she begins to forget other things too: how to get home from a run, for example, and even to find the bathroom in her own house.

Alice is diagnosed with young-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and this compelling, timely production explores the impact of her diagnosis on Alice, John and their two grown-up children.

Not the most uplifting basis for a play, you might think – but in fact, this excellent production, while moving, is never depressing. Sharon Small is wonderful as Alice: a fiercely intelligent woman, condemned to watch her own personality unravel. On stage with her is ‘Herself’ – cleverly played by Eva Pope – who voices Alice’s inner thoughts, sometimes comforting, often disoriented and frightened. This device ensures that, as her disease progresses, the audience never loses sight of the woman she really is.

Based on a best-selling book, Still Alice was adapted into a 2014 film starring Julianne Moore, who won an Oscar for her performance as Alice. The year before that, it had been adapted as a play – and it is this adaptation that receives its British premiere in this touring Leeds Playhouse production.

Working with the Playhouse team is Wendy Mitchell, author of a best-selling British memoir on living with dementia. With Mitchell’s assistance, director David Grindley’s portrayal of life with Alzheimer’s feels authentic and never patronising. As the months pass, we see its effect on every member of the family. Alice’s husband (Martin Marquez) and son (Mark Armstrong) both struggle to accept the changes in the woman they love. John, once happy to clasp his attractive wife close, soon can only greet her with a dutiful peck on the forehead.

It is Alice’s daughter Lydia (Ruth Ollman), an aspiring but unsuccessful actress, who provides hope. At the start of the play her relationship with her mother is spikey: Alice, like all good mothers, frets about her drifting daughter. Lydia resents this and the two barely speak. Yet as Alice’s condition worsens, it is Lydia who finds unexpected depths of sensitivity and understanding. This, and Alice’s dignity and courage, light up the stage. I defy you to watch this play dry-eyed.

Runs until 13 October 2018 | Image: Geraint Lewis

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Affecting dementia drama

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