A Month of Sundays is one of those shows that is simultaneously unique and yet familiar. It’s unique in that it tells a particular story that, thanks to its intricate details, isn’t entirely like any other, and familiar in that its themes have been explored before in miscellaneous ways. Old age and senility is a subject that the show’s programme attributes to going back as far as Shakespeare’s King Lear (1603), but the comical and gently mocking nature of Bob Larbey’s play is somewhat closer to the portrayal of Sir Januarie [sic] in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Merchant’s Tale (1478) than the Bard’s tragedy, at least in tone and sentiment. And then, of course, there’s Florian Zeller’s The Father (2012), in which the central character is cared for at home.
Here, Cooper (William Hoyland) acts as both engaged narrator and variously disengaged resident in a retirement home. I did wonder if a situation arose where a line or two was missed or muddled by either Cooper or his housemate Aylott (Robin Hooper) what impact it would have on the play. I suspect the result would be positive, at least in the sense that the audience would be unlikely to notice, and I am quite sure it would paradoxically add to the humour of the play. This is, after all, a place where people “join the zombies” as Cooper so irreverently puts it.
As far as I am able to deduce, nobody did fluff their lines, and despite all the punchlines – not all of which landed as well as they might have done – weightier matters are treated with more sensitivity than I expected. The style of humour, although sometimes acerbic (and occasionally implausibly so for people supposedly unable to look after themselves), is, between the lines, generally very positive about older people. Encouraging, even.
It is, however, a tad repetitive, and we quickly understand Cooper’s physical limitations whilst continuing to see him shuffling around the room, again and again and again. It is a statement in itself, a sort of gratifying defiance against care assistant Wilson (Anna Leon Brophy), who has advised plenty of rest. But some of the funniest moments are in dialogues between Cooper and down-to-earth cleaner Baker (Connie Walker). Elsewhere, there’s an audible gasp from the audience in response to Cooper’s daughter Julia (Sophie Russell) revealing her true feelings – always a good sign of impeccably powerful acting. There are many who can relate in some way to her and her husband Peter (Gareth Clarke) as they grapple with the complications and awkwardness that arise when visiting an elderly and infirm family member.
The portrayal of some of Cooper’s supposed dreams adds another layer of enjoyment to the proceedings, through their sheer absurdity, even if demonstrating that anything at all is possible in one’s personal dream-world. It does come across as a bit silly, however, and it will not have been to everyone’s liking. The set is fairly elaborate, but static, with all the action of the play being set in one room, albeit a very large one. I must say I liked how easy it was to tell the time of day through inventive, if relatively unsophisticated, use of lighting.
Incredibly witty and enjoyable, this is a production that has the warmth of a cup of tea received just after coming in from the cold on a wintry day, and the charm of a loving and loved grandparent with a heart of gold. Recommended.
Review by Chris Omaweng
This autumn, as the second work in Douglas Rintoul’s inaugural season, The Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch presents the first major revival of Bob Larbey’s award-winning and heart-warming comedy, A Month of Sundays.
Set in the sunny surrounds of a pleasant nursing home, A Month of Sundays tells the story of Cooper, who, railing against his aging body, remains proud of not having ‘lost his marbles’. Aylott, his friend, is increasingly concerned about losing his. Wit and humour keep their worries at bay: Cooper flirts outrageously with pretty nurse Wilson while both men fantasise about escaping to Switzerland. But when Cooper discovers that his grandson no longer wants to see him, and Aylott’s worst fears are realised, he knows a turning point has been reached. Is it ever enough to keep treating life as a comedy…if not, the painful question is: where does he go from here?
QUEEN’S THEATRE HORNCHURCH
A MONTH OF SUNDAYS
By Bob Larbey
Director Russell Bolam
Designer – Anthony Lamble
Lighting – Katharine Williams
Sound – Rebecca Smith
Movement Director – Jack Murphy
QUEEN’S THEATRE HORNCHURCH
SEPTEMBER 23rd – OCTOBER 15th 2016