Also A Mirror
Urban Myth Theatre of Youth @ The Goodwood Institute Theatre
11:00am, Fri 11 Mar 2011
I’ve mentioned my father a few times on this blog, but rarely my mother. And I only mention her now because she’s so relevant to my interpretation of Also A Mirror.
See, my Mum has Alzheimer’s. We’ve only really known about it for the last five-or-so years, and she’s not too bad yet – while answering the same questions three times in a minute was pretty frustrating in the beginning, it’s not really noticeable now; it’s just part of who she is. Her long-term memory is fine; it’s just the short-term that’s swiss cheese.
Also A Mirror is a performance about ageing and, more specifically, about the loss of memory… of dementia. Using four different collections of characters, it puts on stark display different aspects of how this disease affects both the afflicted and their loved ones; there’s elements of pain, of melancholy, and – yes – of laughter. And through all of these scenes wander a careful Olivia Fareweather, listed in the programme as “Speaker” – she represents the disease itself, slowly creeping through the lives of everyone else on the stage.
I have to admit that, at first, I was a little put off by having such a young cast play the lives of the elderly, but – under Glenn Hayden’s direction – they make it work. As mentioned above, Olivia Fareweather was exceptional in her largely isolated, passive role, serenely wandering ghost-like through scenes. Sophia Simmons was the other stand-out as Helen (the european nurse), but that’s not taking anything away from the rest of the cast – despite my misgivings, they all proved to be convincing.
The sets and lighting of the production are superb – plain white furniture surrounds the stage and is used for occasional projection of images and video, helping support the mood. And the dominant mood is very bittersweet – there’s a lot there that’s familiar to me, some of which is pretty painful; but that’s offset a little by characters who inject a little humour into the piece (like the “cards of fate”). Again, it all rings true.
Hanging around for the Q&A session at the end was a bit of a treat, too; it was there that we learnt of some of the production choices of the show, where the young actors from Urban Myth co-operated with the folks of ECH and spent significant time with a number of real sufferers of dementia and their families. From these experiences came a lot of the dialogue; Sean Riley’s script, it turns out, contains very literal tracts of their conversations and experiences.
When I started Fringing like a madman, I always used to try and squeeze in performances by youth theatre groups; partly as a way of patronising them (without being patronising… you know what I mean), and partly as a way to see how young actors develop. Often, though, those performances were sub-par… and always given the benefit of the doubt; some leeway. But with Also A Mirror, Urban Myth have created a theatrical experience that is every bit as rich and rewarding as the best performances in this Fringe; it really is a credit to all concerned.