Descent (Traverse: 20 – 24 October ’15)

Photo: Leslie Black

Photo: Leslie Black

” … doolally moments get longer and longer”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Nae Bad

The fourth in this autumn’s ‘A Play, a Pie, and a Pint’; presented in association with Luminate, Scotland’s creative ageing festival.

Do you play ‘Trivial Pursuit’? Remember the rules? Where do those wee scoring wedges go, the ones that make up the ‘pie’? When did England win the World Cup? Rob is certain he knows the answers but he doesn’t, not at all.

You might go down with a bad cold, but Rob is going down with dementia and he’s probably only in his mid-fifties. That’s ‘Younger Onset Dementia’ then.

Linda Duncan McLaughlin’s play is not comfortable and it is definitely not trivial. It takes 60 minutes of stage time for Rob to go from running his own architectural practice to forgetting how to sit in a chair. His wife, Cathy, does more than her best to care for him but their daughter, Nicola, can see that there comes a point when Dad is too far gone and that Mum cannot continue the struggle to keep him at home, not least for the sake of her own health.

That Rob is an architect is a cruel touch. He has always found pleasure, even beauty, in design and function but here is laid low, kaboshed, by a condition that reduces his brain to formless mush. While he grows frantic because he cannot find his pen we see display models carefully arranged on the wall and neat plans on his drawing board. Rob knuckles his forehead in frustration as his doolally moments get longer and longer but there’s nothing feeble-minded about Barrie Hunter’s performance.

“Everything’s slipping”, says Cathy, and a clock tick-tocks away in the dark scene intervals. Wendy Seager’s calm presence is all the more disquieting in this exacting role. Cathy holds on to Rob as long as she can, which puts her at considerable risk, but their home grows silent, then empty, and finally there is nothing left, just an absence. Nicola (Fiona MacNeil) has, as she puts it, ‘to kick the walls down’.

It is a steep descent, narrowing all the while. McLaughlin and director Allie Butler steady it with a retrospective structure, instances of shared speech and some explicit commentary. The audience, selfishly, is  especially alert when the signs-to-look-out-for are tested at home. Rob, bless him, is appalled – and scared.

NHS Lothian is ‘Making Edinburgh dementia friendly’ at the moment. Look out for a leaflet in the libraries asking whether you are ‘Worried about your memory or someone else’s?’ If you’re not, Descent will make you think again.

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Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Alan Brown(Seen 20 October)

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