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Age concerns

Tanushka Marah recommends an unsettling drama on waiting to die


Brighton Dome 


MATTHEW LENTON’S beautifully directed piece of detailed and crafted theatre has a structure like none you have seen before. 

It starts deceptively, with the small talk between three nurses at a care home as we watch people sitting and sleeping in their chairs. 

Under a dim shaft of dawn light,  masked figures stoop over a table as they gently paint latex face masks to the strains of Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending. Are they surgeons or embalmers?

The undercurrent of frustration, pain and fear present in the boredom of waiting to die builds relentlessly, commanding the attention. 

Later, a man attempts to get to hospital to visit his mother only to be undressed and put in the clothes and mask of an elderly care home resident. The realisation dawns that his outing was nothing but an illusion of lost time.

The exquisite and crepuscular stage lighting, elegant and minimal design and carefully constructed sound all serve to transport the audience to a plane where reality warps and changes, as a howling wind, a snow storm and echoing voices resound. 

Amid this eerie atmosphere children play with light sabres, their innocence and vibrancy marking an obvious yet perfect contradiction to the immobile, detached world of the home.

The cast, in their highly effective masks, powerfully convey the immobility and fragility of old age. 

The action builds to an almost Lear-like climax. 

Against the dark skyscape projected upstage, breathtaking images appear through the hand-held torchlight — a girl eating cereal, a new-born baby and the angel of death — all to the sound of the idle chat of the care workers on their cigarette break.

Glasgow-based Vanishing Point’s strange and powerful piece juxtaposes the mundane with the epic and provides a landscape to ponder the frightening questions of all our tomorrows. 

They’re touring the show again in the autumn and it’s well worth watching out for.


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