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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Visitors
Bush Theatre   Winter 2014-2015

Touching, uplifting and sentimental without slipping into soppiness or bathos, Barney Norris's portrait of long lives and a long marriage is both excellent in itself and the occasion for performances of subtlety and beauty. 

A farmer and his wife, both in their seventies, live in the happiness of knowing and loving each other thoroughly, of being able to read each other's thoughts, to reminisce together as they take turns filling in memory gaps, to laugh at old jokes and still make up new ones, and even to share regrets without a great deal of pain. 

That she is lapsing into dementia is just another fact of life to be dealt with, to hold off as long as possible while accepting with as good humour as possible.

Norris has written some beautiful scenes for the two, conversations about nothing much that tell us volumes about their shared history and conversations about the elephant in the room that show us their fortitude and moral fibre.  And director Alice Hamilton and actors Linda Bassett and Robin Soans make the most of these opportunities, fleshing out and deepening the characters until they become richly alive. 

Bassett in particular finds enriching nuances in every line, whether it is entertaining herself by singing old Elvis songs or telling us all about her character's attitude toward her daughter-in-law with a dry 'She's a . . . strong woman'. 

Soans gives a very generous performance, largely serving as a feed to Bassett, but also uses small touches, like the way he anticipates her reaching out for his hand, to make the man come alive.

The visitors of the title are a young home aide, an untrained girl who nonetheless picks up on the realisation that she's there to help Bassett's character stay in her home as long as possible, and the couple's partly estranged son, so overwhelmed by problems of his own that he's inclined, without conscious cruelty, to expedite Mom's moving into a care home. 

Simon Muller navigates the tricky course of playing a weakling and loser and the nearest thing the play has to a villain without losing our sympathy, while Eleanor Wyld does a nice job of rounding out the girl who is written more a as plot device than a fully realised character. 

At its weakest moments you might sniff the air of a made-for-TV 'issue' movie about Visitors. But those moments are rare and brief. 

Barney Norris has written a play that is rich, moving and deeply satisfying in itself and the stimulus to rich, moving and deeply satisfying work by everyone else involved.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Visitors - Bush Theatre 2014


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