27 March 2014

Visitors at the Arcola Theatre

Visitors was generating a buzz online and that got me to buy the tickets further ahead than I would normally do for something at the Arcola (last time I bought them on the day) which is just as well as by the time that I got to see it the remaining run was completely sold out.

The key phrases that got me interested in the play were "a family is falling apart" and "beautiful and sharply funny". I seem to be seeing a few plays like that at the moment. It must be a fashion.

Visitors was in Studio 2 downstairs and some expert queueing got me the prime seat (my usual one) in the front row just to the right of the central aisle. And in keeping with tradition I had a glass of London Fields Love Not War Red Ale.

The play all happened in the sitting room of a farm house on Salisbury Plain, i.e. approaching the middle of nowhere. There we met the elderly Edie and her husband Arthur. He still worked on the farm but Edie was starting to suffer from dementia and needed looking after. The cheap solution was to get Kate, a young woman uncertain on what to do in life, to live in as a carer in return for her lodgings.

The person who could possibly have done more to help was their son Stephen but he had given up on the farm and lived with his wife and two school-aged children some distance away.

The story started with Edie and Arthur reminiscing about a walk they once made over a hill from one cove to another. It immediately reminded me of the walk from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door which I had made many times. And it was the walk from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door. Edie remembered a newly-wed couple very happy on the shingle and the lovely dress that the bride wore.

They were waiting to meet Kate for the first time and were also expecting Stephen who had made the arrangements for them. Kate had recently left university and being uncertain of what she wanted to do had spent a year with WOOF (Working On Organic Farms), which is almost a real thing. She was also very pretty, which became relevant.

Edie and Arthur were a little surprised that somebody as young and full of life as Kate would want to live with them in approaching the middle of nowhere but she explained her reasoning and she was clearly happy with the arrangement and immediately set off to make a pot of tea.

Then Stephen arrived and that relationship was a lot colder. There was a lot of history there.

For the next couple of hours we watched Arthur and Edie get a little older together (Edie more so) while Kate tried to keep them comfortable and Stephen struggled with his own life.

Edie was the focus of the story, and that made Linda Bassett the star. I am sure that I am not the only one there who could see Edie in somebody we had loved and lost. But Edie was happy and positive throughout even though she knew, at times, what was happening to her. It was both incredibly sad and also uplifting at the same time.

Arthur (Robin Soans) doted on Edie and while he could not imagine not living on the farm he was prepared to consider this if it meant that Edie could get the care that she needed. The loving conversations between Arthur and Edie were the meat of the play.

Stephen (Simon Muller) was in the story to provide contracts and disruption while Kate (Eleanor Wyld) was the catalyst who lived outside of the family but was close enough to it to be able to comment on it. She got caught in the crossfire but managed to escape more or less unharmed.

In the end Edith's spirit and Arthur's devotion triumphed over their situation and I left thinking that they were a lot better off than Stephen was.

It was an immensely moving play and it was easy to see why it had sold out. A lot of that was down to a masterful performance by Linda Bassett and everything else in the production worked in sympathy with that.

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