There is a wonderful newspaper cartoon I saw once where a man was talking to his wife and said: “How is it I can remember the tune from a twenty-five-year-old advert but can’t remember what I’ve just walked over to ask you?”. This sort of thing happens all the time as you get older. For example, I can sometimes sit for what feels like hours looking at the screen trying to remember what word I wanted to type next. We put these little memory anomalies down to various things. But what if they are the harbinger of something far worse than just ordinary forgetfulness? That is the prospect facing the protagonist in David Hendon’s play Banana Crabtree Simon which is receiving its world premiere at the Drayton Arms Theatre.
Banana Crabtree Simon (a fruit, the road he lives on and his son’s name) are the three words that, following a visit to the doctor, fifty-year-old Alan (CJ de Mooi) memorises to show he is in full use of his mental faculties. Alan thinks his wife is going completely over the top, taking him to a doctor to be checked out just because he mixed up a couple of light switches. There is nothing wrong with his mind – he knows all the FA Cup winners since 1923 – but if it takes memorising three seemingly random words and repeating them daily to keep his wife and family happy then he will do it.
David Hendon has written a really touching fifty-five minute monologue in Banana Crabtree Simon, which charts the course of one man’s descent into early onset dementia. Often plays like these are written by someone who either directly or indirectly, has experienced the event of the story. I don’t know if that is the case here but if not, then it is a real testament to David’s writing skill that he has created such a believable tale with his words. As well as Alan’s individual story, David paints a lovely picture of his home life and the other members of his family.
A monologue is more than words of course and CJ de Mooi brings those words to life in fantastic style. Starting as a tall, fit, healthy man with a contemptuous attitude to all this unnecessary fuss, CJ seems to physically crumble as the disease takes hold of his mind Although it is still Alan on the stage, he is almost impossible to recognise from the figure we met less than an hour ago. CJ links the words to movement in a way that touches the heart and draws out our love for Alan and tears for our loss of this unlucky man.
Director Daniel Phillips keeps things simple. The set is merely a chair with a side table and Alan, apart from a quick sojourn into the garden, pretty much stays there throughout almost as if this clinging on to that chair as the last tacit reminder of the man he was.
Being a chap in my early fifties and hitting the mental roadblocks described above occasionally, Banana Crabtree Simon really touched a nerve for me. The subject matter is fascinating in itself and I hadn’t really heard of early-onset dementia before, so the production raised my awareness of this issue. Not that I was worried after seeing the show, but apparently it is pretty rare so my episodes of forgetfulness are probably down to something else. The writing was excellent and the only thing that I think was missing was an idea of timescale. It felt that from the first to the last was a very short time in Alan’s life but I wasn’t really sure over what period the play was set. However, it was a thoroughly enthralling piece and, like everyone else, my eyes never left CJ from the moment he walked on until the curtain came down. CJ is such a great storyteller that we all lived Alan’s experience with him as a member of his family, unable to do anything but sit and watch as our loved one slipped away from us.
Review by Terry Eastham
Banana Crabtree Simon is a one-man play written by renowned snooker commentator David Hendon, a finalist in the Kenneth Branagh Drama Writing Awards. This challenging piece explores one man’s struggle with dementia and the way it affects those around him.
Cast: CJ de Mooi
Director: Daniel Phillips
Stage Manager: Adam Brooks
Writer: David Hendon
Run Time: One Act: 55 mins
Booking to 7th April 2018
Drayton Arms Theatre
153 Old Brompton Road,
London, SW5 0LJ