Old age is something that cannot be avoided no matter how hard we try and, as we get older, things change. In the mind, it is usually the memory that starts to go and we start to be described as being “a bit forgetful, but it’s to be expected at their age”. However when forgetfulness becomes more than just the odd thing then maybe it’s time to start thinking about that dreaded word – Alzheimer’s, a concept that is looked at by Black Coffee Theatre and Dep Arts production One Last Waltz finishing its UK tour with a stint at the Hope Theatre in Islington.
In a room littered with cardboard boxes, Alice (Annie Sawle) is looking for something. She starts going through the boxes and, as is always the case, gets distracted by the items she finds in them – a stuffed monkey, some old china and particularly a pair of formal ladies dance shoes. Discarding her slippers, she puts them on and gently waltzes by herself around the floor, only stopping when her daughter Mandy (Susan Mitchell) calls her name and comes into the room. Mandy reminds her mother that they were looking for an old photo album. Eventually they find it and with an old photo of Alice and her husband George back in 1958 on holiday at The Crown Hotel in Blackpool. After reminiscing about the trip, especially the dancing, Mandy suggests that she and her mum go there for a visit, including a waltz in the famous Tower ballroom. Over the course of the next few days, as her forgetfulness seems to be getting worse, Alice eventually agrees and the two of them set off. Checking into their hotel, they encounter the, let’s be nice and say quirky, manager Georgette (Andrina Carroll) who, eventually, welcomes them in. Over the course of that night and the next day, the three ladies get to know more about each other and find they have much in common with Alice finally enjoying one last waltz.
Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, affecting around 496,000 people in the UK and is predicted to affect 1 in 85 people globally by 2050 but it is still one of those diseases we try and hide from until it is too late. This fear of admitting the truth is picked up wonderfully in this powerful one act play. Writer/Director Luke Adamson has based the tale of Alice, Mandy and Georgette on real life events and experiences and it shows. The conversation between Mandy and her mother at the start of the show about dropping dead in Morrisons while shopping is pretty much word-for-word the same as one I had with my own father recently. Indeed, all the way through, the writing felt very authentic – and if you’ve ever stayed in a Blackpool guesthouse, you will know that Georgette was a pretty accurate reflection of some of the landladies there. And I have to say, all three actors delivered their respective roles beautifully. Annie Sawle as Alice, whose bemusement, determination and frustration with herself were amazing to see. Susan Mitchell played Alice’s daughter Mandy so well, it was impossible not to feel for her as she watched her mother starting to disappear in front of her, knowing she was powerless to help. Finally, Andina Carroll’s Georgette was the only character with whom I didn’t initially click. Whilst there were some really wonderful comic moments – which kept the play much lighter than it could otherwise have been – I didn’t totally warm to her until the late night drink she had with Mandy when I felt I suddenly got to know Georgette a lot more.
Now I could be over-analysing here (it’s a habit of mine) but as well as the writing I did think there was some really potent symbolism in the staging of the play. For example, the opening scene where, to me cardboard boxes represented the fragility of the mind. Memories/objects stored haphazardly in them waiting to be found with unexpected things proving a distraction in the search for one particular item. I also felt that the rhythm of the waltz – with its standard 3-4 musical signature was everywhere. Not just in the incidental music between scenes (some great choices there by the way) but also in the cast with the three ladies physically there and the ghost of Alice’s husband, George making up the fourth member of the show.
So, overall, I enjoyed One Last Waltz all the way through. The simple staging worked really well with the great story and lovely acting to make a really difficult subject just that little more palatable to watch and, by the end I really had come to care for Alice and Mandy and wanted to wish them well over the course of what would be, I’m sure, some traumatic times ahead. Regular readers will know it doesn’t take much to get me started, but, as I looked around the audience at the end of the show, I realised I was definitely not on my own in shedding a tear over this powerful and emotional production.
Review by Terry Eastham
Black Coffee Theatre present ONE LAST WALTZ
A funny and touching new play that deals with coming to terms with Alzheimer’s
Written and directed by Luke Adamson
This funny and touching new play deals with coming to terms with Alzheimer’s disease.
Black Coffee Theatre whose previous work includes the 2013 national tour of a brand new adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull and the 5* new play ‘Found’ take to the road in October 2015 with this latest play from Luke Adamson that is based on real life experiences of Alzheimer’s.
Black Coffee Theatre are working with international theatre and dance producers Dep Arts to bring this show to theatres around the country culminating in a residency in London’s The Hope Theatre. One Last Waltz is being supported by The Alzheimer’s Society who will be delivering post show discussions with the BCT team which will be free for all ticket holders. The tour is also supported by funds from Arts Council England and the play was written with the help of a grant from the Peggy Ramsay Foundation.
“Alice is becoming more and more forgetful. Her daughter Mandy is always on hand to help out but the strain is becoming too much. A long forgotten photograph stirs a memory and lures Alice back to the Crown Hotel in Blackpool. Hoping for a chance to dance in the tower ballroom one last time mother and daughter set out, but Blackpool isn’t how Alice remembers and things become too much for her as she finds herself getting lost in the past.”
Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, affecting around 496,000 people in the UK and is predicted to affect 1 in 85 people globally by 2050. Luke Adamson follows his successful debut play ‘Found’ with this new play based on his real life experiences of Alzheimer’s disease. He says: “My granddad was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and the diagnosis gave us some sort of explanation for his increasingly baffling and often erratic behaviour that had begun to cause a deal of tension amongst those around him. Once we had the diagnosis and we were able to start to manage the disease things became somewhat easier but I started to think about how much of that tension could have been avoided if we’d have come to the diagnosis sooner. Having had no previous experience of the disease we missed the tell tale signs, I was spurred to write this play as a way of raising awareness of these tell tale signs. It is very much based upon my own and my family’s dealings with granddad, a kind of tribute to him.”