Saturday 17 March 2018

Old Fools @ Southwark Playhouse

Old Fools @ Southwark Playhouse

Theatre has the power to transport and captivate. Sometimes that's done through elaborate sets and flashy lighting and loud music and extravagant costumes and make-up.

Old Fools has none of those things. It's plaintive and quiet. Its lighting is soft and subtle. Its staging is bare, with just a stool in one corner. And it's all the more arresting because of that.

The play thrives on its beautiful, human storytelling. Writer Tristan Bernays has produced a sharp script that's at once witty and funny, yet deeply tragic. His story is a simple one: the lifetime of a couple, Tom and Viv (Mark Arends and Frances Grey). It begins with a meet cute and continues through the strains of dealing with Tom's Alzheimers. There are moments of flirtation and humour, and there are moments of pain and sadness. It is rife with raw human emotion but without being overly sentimental, its message to fight through the bad times and remember the good. Yet sometimes remembering itself is a struggle.

It's also full of nostalgia. The empty set adds a timeless quality, but this relationship is a world away from modernity. It's a reminiscence on old fashioned boy meets girl romance, heightened by the repetition of Frank Sinatra's "The Way You Look Tonight" that forms a running thread throughout.

But there's a twist. The play is fragmented, jumping back and forth through time. It's as if we witness the relationship through Tom's mind as he attempts to piece together his past. Cleverly, Bernays uses key trigger words that form a bridge from one scene to the next as the play shifts through time, further emphasising the juxtaposition of emotions. These memories are fragile and precious: they form just as easily and suddenly as they shatter.

What's more, there's a real authenticity to the script. Bernays has experience of Alzheimers in his family and it's clear that he's drawn upon that experience here, its portrayal sensitive yet honest and frank. Arends and Grey bring warmth to their respective roles, Grey also doubling as the couple's daughter. They transition to each emotion and scene with remarkable ease, their relationship consistently compelling and real.

Perhaps most cleverly of all is the play's ambiguity that ensures it remains as thought-provoking as it is heartbreaking. What happens between each jump in time? What details have been left out? We'll never find out. Tragically, perhaps the play's characters won't either.


Watch: Old Fools runs at the Southwark Playhouse until April 7th.

Old Fools @ Southwark Playhouse

Old Fools @ Southwark Playhouse
Photos: NatJames Photography