Kate Maravan’s play The Old House is a devastating exploration of dementia and parenthood. The writer plays both the afflicted mother and her middle-aged child, and the locations shift from house to beach as memories flit back to life briefly – just enough to brush them as they float by.
Daughter is not just caring for Mum, but also on her own mission to give up part of herself to the elements. As the pair explore their past in the house and beyond, we see how alike they are, yet still distinct and strong personalities. We share in their joys, their fears.
In a show rooted in motion and characterisation, Maravan and her director Kath Burlinson, movement director Vincent Manna, and sound designer Adrienne Quartly have created a world for a single performer playing two distinct parts.
As someone who has seen three generations of family afflicted by dementia, The Old House certainly rings true in the fear, deceit, and frustration of Mum as she “forgets” or refuses to face her ageing mind. It is harsh when the child becomes carer.
Maravan’s acting skill sharply defines both of the women, sometimes playing both in a conversation, sometimes responding to the other character’s recorded voice. Mum’s confused mind is also convincingly portrayed through sound, and her physical frailness makes her appear small and scared.
Just one prop is needed on this bare stage, but not a word, a step, or a breath is wasted. I did have questions, though, about the family. Mum is 37 years older than Daughter (ironically the same age gap as me and my Dad): are there other siblings? What was Mum’s past history before she had a child?
The Old House is a love letter to parents and children, and depicts this one relationship in a close and rich way. The language is often beautiful. The feelings and senses both in real time and memory are sharp and eloquently shared.
You can watch The Old House at the Actors Centre website until 13 December. Tickets from £8.
LouReviews received complimentary access to review The Old House.