by guest critic Joanna Trainor
“You look like a fucking idiot.” There was so much love in this insult, that with all the crap this family have to deal with you knew they’d muddle through it together.
For a play just short of 100 minutes, Reared addresses a lot of hefty issues in quite quick succession. Dementia, post-natal depression, losing your virginity, money problems, coming out – the first few scenes are a bit of a whirlwind. But overall writer John Fitzpatrick gives most of them the time they deserve so the story doesn’t feel gimmicky.
Danielle Phillips as 15-year-old Caitlin gives a standout performance. Her character has to deal with a lot for someone who hasn’t even finished secondary school. And don’t worry, this isn’t done in an One Tree Hill, “everybody leaves” kind of way, because like you have to when shit hits the fan, Caitlin just gets on with it. There’s no looking dark and brooding, Caitlin’s sarcasm is cutting and Phillips’ comic timing shines through.
Paddy Glynn as Grandma Nora has a rough time of things as well. Dementia is one of those diseases that can look entirely different to everyone who has encountered it. In the Southwark Playhouse’s recent production of Old Fools*, Tom was frustrated but completely aware of what Alzheimer’s was doing to him. His regression happened slowly, eventually losing speech and the ability to eat.
There are a few problems with the way time progresses in Reared, and although for the most part that ambiguity doesn’t matter, when it comes to dementia it does. Nora moves from not being able to remember where she left something to forgetting she even has a son in the blink of an eye. This change happens too fast for it to be realistic.
Fitzpatrick’s choice to include moments where Nora is aggressive and violent feels important. Just like OCD isn’t about washing your hands all the time, dementia isn’t simply losing your glasses. Their whole personality changes, and anger is often the result of that. By having these moments on stage, and particularly when daughter-in-law Eileen (Shelley Atkinson) shouts at Nora for her behaviour, it opens a necessary dialogue around the condition that isn’t addressed in theatre enough.
Sadly, Reared’s ending is a little rushed. All of a sudden it’s years later and storylines are stopped dead in their tracks. Perhaps a comment on how fast life can move on from something that was so intense in that moment, but onstage it looks a bit lazy. There are scenes that can be cut down within the piece to stop the occasions where it lags, like the bizarre story about the potato famine Nora finds hysterical, and the finish could be given the time it deserves. It’s a shame to see what is a very honest portrayal of family life, and the humour that comes from those relationships, finish on a bum note.
*Seriously, why does Laura keep sending me to shows about dementia? Does she want to see me cry?
Ed. note: This is coincidence, in no way does The Play’s the Thing UK seek to emotionally traumatise its writers.
Reared runs until 28 April.
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