Kate Maravan's play about mother and daughter examines the distancing of dementia
“The word they won’t let settle on their tongues lest it crawl its way down like snakes down the ladder, twisting around”
From the Actors Centre comes this streamed piece written and performed by Kate Maravan about two women, a daughter in her forties and her eighty year old mother. Kate Maravan’s body language and voice tells us which woman is speaking; the aged mother is bent over, her arms often held out with hands expressing what she needs to say and the last resort of the aged, fingers pointing. The younger woman is concerned, mostly patient but often exasperated by her mother’s lack of memory and forgetfulness as to what was explained earlier, like the fact that the mother has no memory of having eaten lunch.
Superbly directed by Kath Burlinson, this is a masterclass in acting and characterisation. The play starts with the actor switching posture to play both women but varies with a recording of just the mother’s voice so we can see all of the daughter’s reactions to her mother’s words. Later with clever editing, a split screen allows us to see and hear both mother and daughter at once.
Underlying this play is the consciousness of “My mother, Myself” the idea that we women, in particular, will all become our mothers and the sad realisation that any criticism we feel, will be what we are guilty of, later in life.
The daughter is driving her mother to the old house by the sea where they once lived. The play opens with the mother fascinated by the lights in the service station and the daughter trying to inform and correct any mistakes made by the mother. After an accident in the lavatory about which the mother is in denial and blaming the cat, the daughter seems to understand that arguing about the truth is a waste of breath and instead presents an alternative version that the mother is happy to accept. It is less stressful that way.
The daughter too has a loss ten years ago that she wishes to face up to and learn to leave behind. The mother articulates her fears and an argument ensues with the mother becoming, as many with advanced dementia are, insecure and accusatory and eventually not recognising her own daughter. “Who are you?” she asks.
Going to the carnival procession in the seaside town instigates some joy and understanding as the daughter can take on board her mother’s fears about the future. We still know too little about Alzheimer’s and dementia and what is happening in the mind of the elderly. Kate Maravan’s play helps us think about this and face up to our own aging with beautiful and descriptive language and glimpses of gentle humour. The idea of mindfulness is to face up to the present as it is now rather than feeling a loss for the past.
The Old House
Written by Kate Maravan
Directed by Kath Burlinson
Director: Kath Burlinson
Movement Director: Vincent Manna
Sound Designer: Adrienne Quartly
Camera/Edit: Aydan Wilder
Running Time: 58 minutes
Streaming 4th to 13th September 2020
The Actors Centre
1A Tower Street
London WC2H 9NP
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge on 4th December 2020