Barney Norris' emotionally charged revival of Visitors at The Watermill
Visitors at The Watermill, Bagnor until April 22, review by ROBIN STRAPP
VISITORS, written and deftly directed by Barney Norris, is a beguiling story that movingly explores family relationships and dementia.
It premiered in 2014, when Norris was in his mid-20s.
Set on a farm on Salisbury Plain, designers Good Teeth have created the rustic, harsh atmosphere of country living. There are cornstalks growing either side of the stage and armchairs built for comfort fill the room, with a television in the corner. James Whiteside’s golden lighting hints of halcyon days from the past when Arthur and his wife Edie were younger and healthy.
But now in their 70s life has become challenging as Edie, superbly acted by Tessa Bell-Briggs, is suffering from dementia and Arthur, impressively played by Christopher Ravenscroft, is finding it difficult to cope. Their loving relationship is heart-rending.
Help comes from the young blue-haired graduate Kate (Nathalie Barclay), the au pair who not only becomes Edie’s carer, but part of the family. She is on a journey of discovery trying to make her way in today’s confusing world.
The relationship between Kate and Edie develops with both kindness and understanding, despite Edie’s dementia taking control of her mind with mood swings that change from lucid memories of her early life, wedding day and life on the farm to moments of total confusion and frustration. Yet there are moments of courage and dignity as she accepts her situation.
Arthur’s stoicism as he cares for his wife while remembering post-war England, where “they used to hang paper bags on a nail over the fireplace” is touching. A remarkable poignant performance.
Patrick Toomey is the wayward son Stephen, who plans to put his mother in a home and sell the farm. He rejected the opportunity to take over the family farm and instead chose the apparently safe career of a life insurance salesman. But his marriage is now in tatters and divorce is imminent. He is struggling to reconcile his relationship with his parents and seeking a new future for himself with apprehension and uncertainty, but is still supported by his loving mother.
This is an uplifting, emotionally charged production that is simply outstanding. Not to be missed.