Old Fools by Tristan Bernays is a new play that continues to enhance the already glowing reputation of Southwark Playhouse. Bernays’ piece explores a kaleidoscope of memories that help us glimpse a life that slowly slips and slides away with the onset of Alzheimer’s. The play is handled with great sensitivity and under the creative direction of Sharon Burrell it becomes an endearing, touching and amusing revelation of what it is to love.
Played in an open acting space there is nowhere to hide for this talented company. Each nuanced emotion, suggestive touch, gesture or inflection is revealed in all its complexity. Frances Grey, the vivacious and youthful Vivian, portrays a terrific range of emotions that captures moments in a lifetime of love that transcend both age and time. Time shift is a clever dynamic device in the play, where a word uttered or a mood felt can immediately transport us back in time, as the fleeting memory both delights and disturbs the present under the cruel shadow of dementia. Young Tom, a talented but struggling musician who knows this dark veil will eventually come over him, is safe in the hands of Mark Arends – his performance is entertaining and totally engaging. Arends also delivers a searing, truthful exposure of love and need as he hangs onto his mantra ‘You, me, us and Alice. You are my home.’ This is powerful stuff.
Bernays’ play does a remarkable job in allowing the audience to be informed and witness the slow decline that dementia can cause as it turns sunny loving people into victims of cellular atrophy. Glimpsing a life that once was theirs, in all its richness, can make them angry as they slowly start to emotionally abuse the ones they love. However, despite the deep themes and the sometimes depressing angle it takes, it never wallows too hard in misery – Old Fools shows a life and a relationship that is mainly moving, yes, and funny too. The victor here is love, truth and honesty and that will see Tom and Vivian through to whatever end awaits them. Beautifully crafted by all the creative team, we see characters in this family who are in it for the long run – hopefully the same will be true for Berneys’ play, as it certainly deserves to be seen by a wider audience.