Seventeen years ago, my nan died. The shock still speaks. The accident was sudden. No broken bones, just a broken family. She was the mother of all mothers. The head of the family, who guarded family confessions, preached the gospel of family, and blessed those with unconditional love. Her home in Streatham incensed with freshly baked jam tarts and enshrined with woolly toilet dollies in the bathrooms. A woman, survived through hardship, installed with the voice of reason. Perhaps stubborn in her ways, but always loving. At the age of sixty-four, she was too young to die. They say anything after seventy is a bonus. Sadly, my nan didn’t possess those bonus balls.
I must admit I still grieve for my nan, but I’m thankful she doesn’t have to suffer the teasing process of aging…and endure our constant worrying over her final breath. Despite failing to dodge many speeding mobility scooters, I always fight the urge to become the personal bodyguard for my elders. Wanting to preserve them, assess whether they are fit for purpose, and mollycoddle them into a pile of blankets, it’s a duty of care and verifies the circle of life.
Seeking revelation from theatre, I always turn to Soho Theatre to witness hard life right in the face and they’ve never failed me. Inspector Sands’ The Lounge deteriorates thoughts from body and wells up the eyes whilst tightening the throat. A perfectly poised dedication to those who feel trapped in care homes. With young minds and aging bodies, this piece of theatre gave a salute to the old folk and shouted at the hard of hearing (aka us). It is simply a play which ages you.
97 years go by in a flash. An afternoon lasts an eternity
In a care home lounge somewhere off the A1, 97 year old Marsha Hewitt begins the last day of her life. But she cannot go quietly. As the radiators burn and Jeremy Kyle blares, rivalries, relatives and murderous impulses jostle for space on the Axminster carpet.
By teatime, a riot is brewing
Wrapping theatre in grandma’s cardigan with a tissue stuffed up the sleeve, The Lounge is the waiting room. A space for performance to halt and reflect. Everything slightly exaggerated for comical effect, but intensified the pressure of aging. Honing in on the daily struggle and misbehaviour of residents, the blur between tension and laughter muddles. Fighting over the television remote and hiding food in a handbag, the giggles towards a dear little old lady softened the heart. Belated actions and pregnant pauses, the auditorium’s darkness distills the air with silence and froths the atmosphere into slow motion.
The Lounge has been developed alongside biomedical professionals from Newcastle, UCL and Cambridge Universities and Barts Health organisation. These experts have supported and influenced the creative process, offering invaluable insight into the medical and social impact of aging, both as an individual and as a society.
Designed by experts in the field, you can tell the company guards the subject of aging close to their hearts. Making the performance a viewing pleasure, the amazing trio cast changed from carer to resident, using the set as a passage of life. Lucinka Eisler, Giulia Innocenti and Dennis Herdman played their roles with conviction and bounds of energy. Constantly evolving, the expressive mannerisms embodied the true weight of age. With doses of comedy and human emotion, their breakout sessions with the microphones amplified the noise of age, including the munching of biscuits, licking of lips and the heaviness of breath.
Suffocating their bodies of oxygen, it was the collapse of an able body, morphing into a sunken plasticated armchair, was visually fascinating yet emotionally sad to watch. The withdrawal of energy, gasps of breath, and pleading for escape, created dark comedy but verified the horrors of aging. Losing bladder control, clutching onto stable objects and people, and struggling to speak words but mutter noises, it was a terrifying glimpse into the future.
After the metaphorical visual madness of Marsha’s mind, The Lounge lacked a punchy conclusion though. The care workers simply tidying and straightening three armchairs, the pace gave up the ghost. Perhaps it was a sign of decease and a vacancy for residence, but it was a little loose for my liking. I wanted a victory speech or a slice of drama to pitch up for our forgotten elderly.
Wanting to run home and check on your grandparents, The Lounge is a great piece of rethink theatre. Shaking off the horrors of aging, this becomes a scary glimpse into your future. I haven’t ever thought “who will look after me?” So wrapped up in being young, free and single, I guess you avoid these terrifying questions…for now. My nan always told me to “enjoy life” and I’m sticking to her word, but, perhaps, The Lounge ripped off my slippers, hit me with a walking stick, and gave me the reality check. All I know is I won’t need any false teeth…I hope!
Big thanks to Rosie Bauer from Mobius.