Benjamin Franklin said there were “only two things in life that were certain: death and taxes” and in many ways he was right. Ultimately from the day we are born we are on a journey to our death and although we understand that intellectually, it is not something that occupies our thoughts every day of our life. However, imagine if you knew not only that you were going to die but that there was a fifty/fifty chance you would do so relatively young and would have lost your mind before doing so, how would you feel and, more importantly, would you tell your loved ones in advance? This then is the quandary facing the heroine of Nicola Wilson’s debut play Plaques and Tangles at the Royal Court Theatre.
Megan (Monica Dolan) and her perfect suburban family, husband Jez (Ferdy Roberts), 15 year old son Ned (Ted Reilly) and wanting to change the world 13-year-old daughter Lila (Alice Felgate) are celebrating Megan’s 44th birthday in the traditional way with a good old game of Scrabble. Megan, who is a bit of a lexicographer loves the game – though the kids are definitely over it – and are really pleased when their mother finally wins. Jump back 22 years and a younger Megan (Rosalind Eleazar) wakes up in a stranger’s bed. She had been on her hen night the evening before and seems to have met, and gone off with, a man out on a stag night who, as is the way in these sort of encounters, introduces himself as Jez (Robert Lonsdale). Megan is unsure what to do now. Her fiance, Crispin, believes that there should be complete openness between them whilst Megan believes that in order for a relationship to survive, there has to be surprises and secrets on the journey. In fact, Megan has a massive secret of her own at this point in her life. Following the death of her mother Eva (Brid Brennan), she has been told that there is a fifty/fifty chance she may have Familial Alzheimer’s Disease. There is a genetic test available for her to find out for certain but she is unsure what to do – to find out or not? Fast forward again and Ned, now aged 16, has news for his parents. He and his 17 year old girlfriend Gwen (Vanessa Babirye) are about to bring the next generation into the family. Megan now has no choice but to talk to the family and tell them her secret not only about the fatal gene she is carrying – which even now is starting to manifest itself in her – but also about the inheritance she is passing on to her family.
I have to be honest, Plaques and Tangles is not an easy play to watch. Nicola Wilson has written an intense and emotional piece, relieved in places by some wonderful moments of dark humour, that portrays Alzheimer’s in all its ugly glory and does not hold back in its depiction of the disease and its effect not only on the sufferer but those around her. There were quite a few times, especially later as the disease really took hold, that I was sat almost overcome with emotion as I watched this fine young lady grow from a beautiful, articulate, intelligent woman to an almost comatose empty shell of a human being. This reaction is down to not only superb writing but some really outstanding acting from both Rosalind Eleazar and Monica Dolan as young and old Megan respectively. Both ladies were more than ably supported by their respective Jez but special credit must go to Ferdy Roberts for his fantastic portrayal of a man for whom life has come apart at the seams in ways that he could have never imagined in his worst nightmare but who has to try and keep things together for his children, both of whom are going through their own personal hell with Megan’s condition and the possibility that they too could be going the same way. Both Ted and Alice did superbly in this and their support for their parents – with unexpected consequences – was brilliantly portrayed.
Andrew D Edwards set – a jet black traverse stage with a black and white staircase at one end and a white bed at other and a tangled pulsating rope light suspended above * is used to excellent effect by Director Lucy Morrison and ensures that, just as with the illness itself, the audience never has the chance to relax and be complacent about where things will happen. This moving about was a little confusing at times and there were a couple of scenes that I have to admit I’m not sure I fully understood but I am putting that down to my own failings rather than anything major wrong with the play.
Plaques and Tangles is not easy viewing but it is a fantastic piece of theatre that really opened my eyes – albeit reluctantly – to the world of Familial Alzheimer’s Disease and made me really appreciate that the illness affects not only the sufferer but those around them in quite devastating ways. I would recommend that when you go and see Plaques and Tangles you buy the programme/book which contains not only details of the cast and creatives but the script to the show – I have read it twice now – and really gives the reader a chance to appreciate the wonderful and highly informative text.
To sum up, Plaques and Tangles is a well-written and brilliantly acted show that will leave you lasting memories of having seen something very special.
Review by Terry Eastham
“I do not accept there is anything wrong with me”
Days before her wedding Megan discovers she has a 50-50 chance of developing early onset Alzheimer’s. Years later she’s offered a genetic test. But if she’s got the gene does she really want to know?
Megan, 21. Megan, 47. Megan, 32. Megan, 27.
One woman lurches through time on a wild memory trip while her young family deal with the consequences.
“I can’t think. But I still feel. And most of the time I feel scared. Scared because it’s too soon. I haven’t finished yet.”
Nicola Wilson’s Royal Court debut explores one woman’s life with early onset Alzheimer’s. Royal Court Associate Lucy Morrison directs. Design by Andrew D. Edwards and lighting by Anna Watson.
Cast: Brid Brennan – Eva/Barbara, Rosalind Eleazar – Young Megan, Alice Felgate – Lila, Robert Lonsdale – Young Jez, Red Reilly – Ned, Ferdy Roberts – Jez, Vanessa Babirye – Gwen.
Creatives: Nicola Wilson – Writer, Lucy Morrison – Director, Andrew D Edwards – Design, Anna Watson – Lighting, Emily Legg – Sound Design, Polly Bennett – Movement Director, Daniel Elms – Composer.
PLAQUES AND TANGLES
By Nicola Wilson
14th October – 21st November 2015
Jerwood Theatre Upstairs