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27

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
Faith, hope and not so much charity as big business sponsorship are at
the heart of Abi Morgan’s heartfelt new play for the National Theatre
of Scotland. Inspired by Dr David Snowdon’s book, Aging With Grace,
based on his scientific study of nuns and the effects of Alzheimer’s
disease, Morgan sets up a text-book culture clash between two very
different orthodoxies trying to find meaning and enlightenment in a
fast food, hi-tech, wonder drug world which cares for neither.

In one corner is Nicholas Le Prevost’s shy but driven American, Dr
Richard Garfield, in the other the force of nature that is Maureen
Beattie’s Sister Ursula Mary. Orbiting around them in the west of
Scotland nunnery over half a decade are infinitely more realistic
elements from both younger and older generations, who map out their own
destinies while Richard and Ursula remain in very different forms of
limbo.

There are times in Vicky Featherstone’s monumental-looking production
where the play’s intense, metaphor-laden naturalism is almost too dry.
As retreat gradually turns to ethical and emotional confrontation in a
struggle to turn dirty money clean regarding matters of life and death,
however, Ursula’s howl of rage at the world speaks volumes.

It’s moments like these that make the play, with Beattie especially
giving a fearless study of doubt, loss and belief. The last half hour
in particular is spellbindingly good. By the end, both Richard and
Ursula have acquired a less rigid view of the world. Richard in
particular has learnt the hard way not to be so pious, and that if you
let enough light into your world, miracles may happen yet.

The Herald, October 27th 2011

ends

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