The Lounge

How real should theatre be?  The Lounge from China Plate/Inspector Sands, presented at Contact 20-21 May, ‘shines a spotlight on how we all cope, or fail to cope with growing old’.  We witness the last day of a 97 year old lady as she navigates daily challenges in a care home, never fully accepting that she had to lose her independence in the first place.

Performed by a cast of three who transition between young and old with an ease that creates a puppet like quality in the old people, moving slowly and yet seeing everything, the challenges of a care home are vividly created on stage.  This is hyperrealism.  Watching this play is exactly as if I am visiting my mum in her care home.  The care home staff are exactly like this.  The residents do exactly these things.  I feel exactly like this.  I don’t understand why anyone finds this funny, yet a large part of the audience do.  Indeed it’s billed as  a ‘dangerously unstable farce’.

But the play raises some very important issues.  The young man is shocked that staff can’t find his grandad.  How much freedom do we give our ageing population – at what point do we take every last piece of freedom away in the name of eliminating any risks?  The care home staff miss key incidents – but who could possibly pay for this level of care when fees can already exceed £1,000 a week?  How much choice do we give or take away from our ageing population?  This play shows very clearly that we are always dealing with human beings with very real feelings.

Towards the end the pace changes and becomes surreal, which only partly works.  A mock auction for the 97 year old Marsha Hewitt’s house is heartbreaking, as is the insensitive manner her possessions and life are discarded.  But it’s a tricky piece to finish, given we know at the start that Marsha will die that day.

In effect this takes verbatim theatre a stage further by presenting the entire environment on stage.  It’s very powerful, very memorable and very very real.  Hopefully a play that will continue to drive the debate on how we treat our ageing population.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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