BWW Reviews: VISITORS, Bush Theatre, December 1 2014
Barney Norris' debut full-length play Visitors has transferred from the Everyman Theatre in Chichester to the Arcola earlier this year and has now started its run at the Bush Theatre, where all of the original cast members have reprised their roles. Set in a remote farm in north Wiltshire, Edie (Linda Bassett) and Arthur (Robin Soans) a married couple in their seventies are living happily alone with Arthur working out on the farm and Edie keeping things running in the home. Having lived there their whole married lives, the play opens to the two of them worrying over the arrival of a visitor - one who they're concerned will change their lives forever.
Enter blue haired twenty something graduate Kate (Eleanor Wyld), hired by Edie and Arthur's son Stephen (Simon Muller) as the temporary home-help as Edie is suffering from the early signs of dementia. Kate sees this as an opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle and think about what the future holds as she doesn't know what she wants to do with her life. Stephen is an infrequent visitor to the farm and as his visits become regular, Edie becomes scared that he means to send her to a home and she reveals that she is frightened of being away from the only place she's ever really known and her husband. It soon turns out that Stephen has an ulterior motive for stopping by so often though - there are problems in his marriage and so he's spending less time at home and more time with his parents.
The tender relationship between Edie and Arthur is entirely believable and their little touches and longing looks lend a heart breaking element as the audience sees Edie's mental health decline rapidly, resulting in her greatest fear - moving to a home. Arthur is devastated by this development as the two have never spent any time apart throughout their whole married life, but realising he has to do what is best for his wife agrees to sell the farm and move to a home so that he can be nearer to Edie.
It is highly surprising to learn that Norris is just 27 years old - his understanding of the older generations and the pain that is felt when someone is suffering from dementia is clear in the way he writes this beautiful piece. The elderly couple reminded me of my grandparents and I remember the heartache my family felt when we made the difficult decision to put my great-grandmother into a nursing home when it became too difficult for my grandparents to look after her.
The relationships between the four characters is extremely interesting - Arthur is very endearing and loving towards his wife, while his conversations with his son Stephen tend to be very cold, often resulting in arguments. It is surprising how warm he is towards Kate, a virtual stranger in his life who looks more comfortable in the couple's home and in their presence than their own son. Stephen's childish behaviour, where he blames his parents' happy marriage for the decline of his own, does not endear the audience to him much; but it is clear that he is trying to do what he thinks is best for his mother, though Kate criticises his decision to sell the farm and force his parents to leave in an act that she deems selfish.
Director Alice Hamilton is careful in her portrayal of the sensitive situation and with a strong cast this production is outstanding. Linda Bassett is fantastic as Edie and her rapidly declining mental health is sad to watch, as is the suffering and pain of her ever-loving husband, which Soans portrays expertly. Despite the seriousness surrounding the play, there are some very funny moments, and Bassett's perfect comic timing has the audience howling with laughter. This well-written, funny and moving production is one I would highly recommend to all.
Photo Credit: Alastair Muir