Mary Mazzilli, in the author’s note to Old Bags, makes the point that theatre is often obsessed with the trials and tribulations of the young. While I couldn’t agree more that we don’t see enough plays about the elderly, this production managed to highlight many of the issues that often plague productions that focus on age so heavily, which is a shame considering the general strength of the script and acting: this is a beautiful and poetic insight into ageing from a very exciting writer, but a handful of badly handled small details do let this production down a little.
The plot of this finely tuned play is an excellent example of craftsmanship: through a series of almost abstract vignettes, we are introduced to Dorian and Vivian, two people leading very two very different lives, both about to be impacted by age in a way they cannot possibly forsee. At times touching, at others poetic, at others vaguely obtuse but deliberately so, this is a remarkable piece of writing, and deserves to be heaped with the praise.
However, where the script is a piece of exquisite craftsmanship, the production is not quite as well constructed: numerous small issues distract rather than informing the piece, and leave the final product a little out-of-key. The acting is highly variable, from the excellent Martin Aukland as Dorian to the stilted and stiff Sibeal McGuinne as Vivian – while the poetry flows from him, it never feels like McGuinne ever fully found her way with the writing: lines that should sound natural just don’t. The directing, while mostly strong and creating some powerful and interesting scenes also shows some surprisingly strange decisions: a crass and almost racist stereotypical portrayal of a Chinese friend is horribly done, and one poor actress has to play a 20 year old and a 6 year old, changing costumes sometimes in under a minute, and it looks wholly peculiar.
Add to all this a soundscape from a dystopian nightmare (occasionally fitting and, where so, intriguing stuff) and a pretty, soft lighting design (but with infrequent, out-of-place glaring straight lines) and a pattern starts to emerge: this feels very much like a piece in need of a fine-tune, a piece that was missing a couple rehearsals to reach its full potential. In the meantime, it is still a perfectly decent production of a fantastic script, but the greatest feeling I walked away with was one of a wasted opportunity.
Mazzilli is slowly making a better and better name for herself around the London fringe, and hopefully this will be another feather in her cap, but I doubt this will be remembered as its best production: small details seem to trouble Lumenis Theatre: apart from all the above, the programme wasn’t even spell-checked! A bit of attention to detail wouldn’t go amiss…