Review: Old Fools
Image: To The Moon and Making Productions
Mark Arends - Tom
Frances Grey - Viv
Old Fools is the story of Tom and Viv, their love and the life they've shared together - from first spark to dying light.
But not necessarily in that order.
Directed by Sharon Burrell, this is a surprising and touching tale about a couple, one of whom is suffering from Alzheimer's, and their enduring efforts to hold their relationship together through the years.
The play's world premiere.
Tristan Bernays is an award winning writer and performer.
His play Teddy premiered at Southwark playhouse and his work has been performed at The Globe, Soho Theatre, Bush Theatre, National Theatre Studio and Roundhouse.
A play about the devastating impact of Alzheimer's disease isn't exactly novel.
Only a year ago, I saw a play at the Hope Theatre by Matthew Seager called 'In Other Words' which focused on the same disease and its affects on relationships.
And there have been others plays and monologues covering the same ground - more or less - including Florian Zeller's acclaimed 'The Father'.
Given the nature of this terrible and alarmingly widespread disease, perhaps it's no surprise that playwrights want to make their own personal statements about it in their own style.
That seems to be the case here with writer Tristan Bernays whose grandfather suffered from the disease.
There's no set in this production, with the only prop being a simple stool.
That places the focus of attention pretty squarely on the performances and neither Mark Arends nor Frances Grey disappoint.
The action moves back and forth in time in the lives of Tom and Viv.
It's Tom who succumbs to Alzheimer's, but that doesn't become evident until we're some way into the play.
The first segment concentrates on how the couple met and we find Tom is a piano player, inventively and cheekily adept at delivering chat-up lines.
Viv is the more down-to-earth, perhaps the stronger of the two, and it's her career which supports the pair as they move into a full-time relationship, subsequently raising a child.
And we later find gown-up daughter Alice talking to her Dad as Frances Grey fluidly switches roles.
Frances Grey (Viv), Mark Arends (Tom) - photo: Nat James Photography
I don't think we actually hear the word dementia, or Alzheimer's for that matter, at any time during this short play, and we certainly don't hear very much about what it actually is, and only a brief note or two about how it affects the brains of those afflicted by it.
That, though, isn't really the purpose of this story which actually provides snapshots of memories - positive and negative - from the lives and relationship of these two people.
Some of those moments turn-out to be tense and poignant - such as when Tom has a brief affair and when, in the later stages of her partner's slide into dementia, Viv suddenly and movingly finds coping with Tom's symptoms too much to bear.
Liberally sprinkled with humour - which easily found receptive targets among the audience - the production is also tinged (perhaps inevitably, even intentionally given its overall approach) with a dose of sentimentality, especially in the closing stages which bookends the play with nostalgic music.
That partially blunts Tristan Bernays' slant on dementia which avoids a detailed restatement of the mechanics and progress of the condition, opting instead to highlight Tom's love and life experiences.
And that also mutes the emotional impact of the play so we never get close to heartbreaking sadness or the point of tearful tragedy.
However, the play does capture touching moments, largely thanks to authentic and highly watchable performances.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Southwark Playhouse
Our show listing for Old Fools
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