King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
It’s the clutter you notice first in David Grindley’s staging of Christine Mary Dunford’s play, adapted from Lisa Genova’s novel about a woman whose life is ripped apart by young-onset dementia aged just fifty. The furniture in the open-plan living room and kitchen arrangement of Jonathan Fensom’s set seems to spill into each other, the physical manifestation of a busy and over-loaded mind that will gradually be stripped bare until there’s nothing to hold onto anymore.
This is what happens to Alice, the driven Harvard linguistics professor who finds herself slowly losing her faculties. Like her would-be actress daughter Lydia, Alice suddenly has to improvise her way through life, aided here by her inner self brought to life by Eva Pope, who gives voice to Alice’s internal workings. Where Alice and her husband John were once academic equals, by the end she can’t recognise him or her children, but remains dependent on the kindness of the people closest to her who are now strangers.
Making its UK premiere in this tour of Leeds Playhouse production from earlier this year, Dunford’s play pre-dates the 2015 Oscar-winning film by a couple of years, but over its 90-minute duration packs a similar emotional punch. Despite the elegiac score sign-posting the way, much of the production’s power comes from Sharon Small’s performance as Alice. It’s an increasingly moving and remarkably nuanced turn, which, along with Pope’s presence, forms the heart and soul of an occasionally uneven piece of work.
This is despite the efforts of Martin Marquez as John, Ruth Ollman as Lydia and Mark Armstrong as Alice and John’s high-flying son Thomas. In the end, though, as Alice’s half-life goes on, it is Small that leaves her mark in a heart-rending portrayal of a woman who loses herself, with only the love of others to keep her going.
The Herald, September 27th 2018