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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Salt, Root and Roe
Donmar at Trafalgar Studios    Autumn 2011

Ageing twin sisters have lived their entire lives in the seaside Welsh village in which they were born, but now one is sinking into dementia. Will disease finally separate them when life up to now could not, or will love find a way to take arms against this sea of troubles? 

My allusion to Hamlet is appropriate, since the sea is a central symbol in Tim Price's delicate and touching new play, the place, according to local and family legend, that life came from and might return to. Legend, family tradition, Welshness and a sense of home are as much Price's subject as the sisters' dilemma, and he skilfully evokes all of them, giving the play a texture and emotional depth beyond the surface medical drama. 

Also in the play are the adult daughter of the healthier sister, come to help in the crisis, and a neighbour who has a family drama of his own which the play nods to respectfully without getting sidetracked. 

The daughter/niece's story does get more attention, as what first appear to be a set of her own neuroses turn out to be the by-products of problems in her own home that lead her also to seek strength from what's left of a sense of family and heritage here. 

The centre of the play, however, lies in watching the bond of the sisters fight valiantly against the inevitable, and understanding how drawing on their past, their family's past and their Welsh culture supports them in the battle. 

Anna Calder-Marshall as the one losing touch with reality and Anna Carteret as her stronger sister each give performances of heartbreaking delicacy and extraordinary understanding of their characters, while Imogen Stubbs goes far toward making a real character out of the daughter/niece (who is still a bit too obviously just a playwright's device for allowing things to be said out loud) and Roger Evans is unobtrusively sympathetic as the friend. 

Director Hamish Pirie earns a great deal of credit for guiding his actors to such sensitive performances and for creating and sustaining the atmosphere around them. 

This is not a great play – it's a little too soft at the centre, even for an admittedly sentimental piece – but it is a very very good play, all the more remarkable for being only Tim Price's second. His third or fourth is likely to be brilliant, so you will want to see this, not just for its own considerable merits, but to be able to say you were there from the start.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   Salt Root and Roe - Donmar at Trafalgar Studios 2011

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