The second and final Donmar Trafalgar season showcasing directors who've previously been Resident Assistant Director at the Donmar Warehouse begins with Hamish Pirie, who directs a new play by Tim Price. Salt, Root and Roe takes place in a remote coastal part of Wales, where elderly twins Iola (Anna Calder-Marshall) and Anest (Anna Carteret) are both widowed, and living together like they did as children. Iola has a brain tumour that is gradually edging her into dementia and at the start of the play she's posted a suicide note to Anest's daughter, Menna (Imogen Stubbs.) Arriving in a panic to try and save her aunt Menna finds that the two have sold almost all their possessions, as Anest plans not just to help her sister, but to join her.
Though at times desperately sad, Price has injected a lot of funny moments into what is ultimately a life-affirming play about the bond between twins, and knowing when to bow out gracefully - losing her grip on much that's going on around her, Iola still recognises Anest, but both would rather die than face the inevitable moment when she no longer does. Calder-Marshall and Carteret are both excellent and hugely moving, the former's face turning on a sixpence from kindly, loveable aunt to frighteningly aggressive, reacting violently to her spells of disorientation. Stubbs is also strong as the daughter learning to deal both with the twins' intentions and with the problems in her own life, while Roger Evans gives good support as the sole male character. The play is heavy on traditional Welsh songs, stories, mythology and flashbacks to the twins' childhood, and the atmosphere is helped by Chloe Lamford's evocative set and Anna Watson's moody lighting whhich makes strong use of colour. With a lot of teenagers in, presumably, a school party in the audience, I overheard the girls and even a couple of the boys confessing to tearing up afterwards, and Pirie's direction shows a confident, steady hand; my only criticism would be that on Trafalgar 2's thrust stage, the blocking seemed determined to keep a number of important reveals from those of us sitting audience right.
Salt, Root and Roe by Tim Price is booking until the 3rd of December at Trafalgar Studio 2.