Bjorg Vik’s play The Journey To Venice is a delightful production, entertaining yet full of pathos. A play with a heart that beats triumphantly for care and kindness. It is an exploration of imagination as the aged Edith and Oscar, after a lifetime of marriage, navigate their twilight years.
Increasingly their fragile existence of mind and body (not to mention finances) looms large, yet, the play is full of fun and optimism and even promise. The 80-year-old Oscar, played by Tim Hardy, delivers a nuanced performance with an impressive vocal quality that gives way to tenderness and flirtation – all with a fascination and confusion with the world around him. His anchor is Edith, his long-standing wife who motivates and organises his days and Annabel Leventon exudes charm and a liveliness that belies her years. Yet below the surface you sense troubled waters as Edith recalls the lost babies and the pain of one surviving for six days, such pain never truly dissipates, and it is not something to be forgotten.
Yet, memory is an affirmative feature in The Journey To Venice as it seems to ennoble the spirit and reminds our characters of the life they had. Sure, they only survive on his small pension, but Edith has been selling the ‘family silver’ so they don’t go without. But it is their minds that are never impoverished as she organises role-play trips to their favourite old haunts. True, at times sad older memories bubble up but they soon burst into a feigned light-heartedness.
Oscar’s knees ache and his eyesight fails but Edith draws him into these other worlds by reading to him (hilarious at times) but importantly she organises the trips. Playing their cine film, they relive their adventures from old; hill walking, sheltering, picnicking and all from the comfort of their living room. In boots and anoraks, they set off. Over chairs and over tables they imagine the journeys they have taken together, clambering and recalling names and places they pull their vibrant past into their increasingly passive present. Directed by Wiebke Green with great sensitivity with the lost moments in a seasoned relationship sensitively captured with care and respect, whilst also celebrating the power of imagination.
The play neatly introduces youthful supporting characters; the cleaner, played with a ditzy charm by Charlotte Beaumont and Christopher, and a plumber we’d all like to employ, with his knockabout humour and carefree attitude. Bjorg Vik adds some real depth to this humorous foursome, as names and experience slightly conflate, which at once are funny and yet poignant. But in the end a thoughtful caring world wraps itself around our old couple; the cleaner will return, the plumber scraps the bill and another day of revels end for Oscar and Edith, so boots off, slippers on.
My only reservation? I would have been happy to come back after an interval and find out what happens next. Well done the Finborough Theatre for selecting The Journey To Venice as it leaves you wanting more. Moreover, for also for being diverse enough to have a production about an old couple flirting and skirting around with ideas new and old and where an older leading actress drives the play forward from center stage.
(The play was translated by Janet Garton)
ASHE DE WAAL
Set & Costume Design