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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Really Old, Like Forty Five
Cottesloe Theatre       Winter-Spring 2010

Tamsin Oglesby's new play is a dystopian black comedy, a difficult mode to sustain in the best of circumstances.

And given its subject - the treatment and mistreatment of the elderly - its balance between dark humour and unpleasant thoughts wavers significantly, perhaps too much for the evening to be wholly successful.

Oglesby imagines a very near future in which the social burden of large numbers of old people has led to draconian measures ranging from the relatively benign - compulsory jobs as surrogate grandparents to troubled teens - through the morally dubious - mass screening for Alzheimer's - to the clearly beyond the pale - using dementia patents to test dangerous new drugs - and the fantastic - rolling out clumsily human-like robots as carers.

Against this broad satiric picture (which imagines no demarcation between drug companies, the NHS and the government), Oglesby looks at the effects on some real live people, two sisters and a brother in their eighties, and their families.

One sister is in the first stages of dementia, the other is mentally sound but physically frail, and the brother is frantically trying to hide his age and remain part of society.

All are victimised in one way or another, their stiff-upper-lip passivity only adding to the play's outrage.

With much of the satire in the external scenes and much of the pathos and outrage in the personal scenes (though there are some crossovers, notably the weird female robot nurse), the play keeps switching between tones rather than integrating them.

Sitting in an older-skewing matinee audience, it was clear that many found the play more troubling than enjoyable.

Director Anna Mackmin works hard to bridge the tonal gaps in the play, but must be satisfied with drawing either strongly moving (Judy Parfitt as the mentally failing sister, Marcia Warren as the physically frail one) or strongly comic (Paul Ritter as the chief bureaucrat, Michela Meazza as the robot) performances from her cast.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Really Old Like Forty Five - National Theatre 2010
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