Tamsin Oglesby's new black comedy at the National is about the ageing population, and seems to take place at some point in the near future. The stage is split, and above we have "policy official" Monroe (Paul Ritter) and his team coming up with ways of dealing with the ageing population: From slow- and fast-lanes on pavements to drug trials for dementia. Below there's scenes from the lives of three ageing siblings and their families, one of whom, Lyn (Judy Parfitt) is starting to show signs of Alzheimers. In the second act we see how the two groups affect each other as they all meet in the hospital where Lyn (and her sister Alice, who's hurt her leg) are staying.
There's a lot of great performances, including from Parfitt, who finds a poetry in her character's increasingly disjointed rambling, and Marcia Warren as Alice, a lovely old lady with a glint in her eye, some knitting on her lap and dozens of adopted "grandchildren" who earn her government credits she can exchange for holidays. Anna Mackmin's production is fast-paced and energetic, and Oglesby's script has some great comic moments, but I couldn't help feeling there was a lack of focus. While the issue of the ageing population is well worth looking into, it felt as if Oglesby had never quite decided what aspect she was most interested in - Dementia? Euthanasia? Older people lacking a sense of purpose? The economic ramifications? They're all there but I found it hard to decide what was at the heart of the piece. Still, both entertaining and thought-provoking, even if it's done with a rather scattershot approach.
I do wonder if actors should change their old adage to "never work with children, animals, or dancers" because despite great acting from everyone on stage, Michela Meazza (a regular dancer for Matthew Bourne's companies) steals every scene she's in as a robot nurse. She manages to turn the old standby of "pretending to be a robot" into something that feels entirely new and unique, a strange, birdlike way of moving that's at once believably mechanical while eliciting a palpable warmth from the audience. Meazza's performance is almost worth the price of a ticket on its own. I suspect that however good a job writer, director or cast have done, this is destined to be remembered as "the play with the robot."
Really Old, Like Forty Five by Tamsin Oglesby is booking until the 20th of April at the National Theatre's Cottesloe.