I was very pleased to accept an invitation to review Abingdon Drama Club’s latest production ‘The Wrong Goodbye’. This was a world premiere of a powerful and involving drama by local playwright Stephen Rees. The play was an insight into the utter devastation dementia can cause - not only to the sufferer - but also to those who love and care for them. The main focus of the narrative was on the branch of dementia known as Alzheimer’s disease.
The whole production was polished, pacey and well delivered by an obviously dedicated cast. The impressive and very adaptable set was complimented by some fine performances. What might possibly have been quite a depressing evening turned out to be one of hope - and the incredible power and strength of the human spirit to overcome the most daunting of odds.
The two leading male characters were brothers Ralf, who was in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s, and Sam his carer.
Kieran Piggott gave a convincingly disturbing portrait of Ralf - a man who was slowly ‘disappearing’ before the eyes of those who knew and loved him.
Sam was brought vividly to life by John Hawkins who captured well the anger, frustration and guilt he was feeling as he analysed how his life had changed.
Both actors gave powerful performances without becoming melodramatic.
Their well-to-do and rather vacuous sister was played by Maria Crocker. This was a convincing characterisation especially when she revealed all was not as it should be in her ‘perfect life’ and that her husband was having an affair.
Terry Atkinson played Tim who we meet early in the play when he engages the two brothers in conversation in the park - but is dressed as a woman. Ralf insults him and Sam is suitably apologetic on his brother’s behalf. Tim appears later in the play as a carer in a home for people with dementia that is to be Ralf’s potential new home. Terry played this character with warmth and a touch of pathos. I’m not quite sure how Tim’s cross-dressing tendencies affected the narrative of the play except, of course, when he was found to be an employee at the care home by Sam. Maybe I missed something!
Rachel, Ralf’s doctor (and Sam’s eventual soul-mate?) was played well by Laura King. She made the dialogue sound easy and it was delivered in a very natural way. The scene where she speaks with her mother, (Lotty, who we know is a resident of the care home) before dementia eventually steals her away, was very well done. Laura’s voice, however, was fairly quiet on a couple of occasions and I missed the odd line and word.
Charlie Griffiths, summoned to the house on a wild goose chase was suitably firm and formal as the policewoman – if not a little harsh – knowing the circumstances of the phone call. A small cameo role but a nice characterisation never the less.
I liked Kaylee Corcoran’s interpretation of Jane the other care worker we met in the care home scene. She was played beautifully with great affection and I thought that the way she was ‘feeding’ one of the residents was particularly affecting.
The characters of the ‘residents’ were very well observed and brought to life by some fine acting by Nigel Tate, Geraldine Hodson and Jill Calvert as Gerald, Lotty (Rachel’s mother) and Winnie respectively. All three were very believable in their different ways.
Tony Green as Simon (a young onset dementia sufferer) was amazing. He moved through a gamut of emotions and ‘characters’ effortlessly. A very poignant performance. Although this was a fairly brief cameo appearance it was certainly a most memorable one!
Lynne Smiths direction was sure-footed and sensitive. She achieved some remarkable performances from this talented cast who made good use of the playing area and used the tremendous set beautifully.
I very much liked the staging and the clever use of projection taking us ‘through time’ with that amazing image of a fast moving clock. The lighting was also very effective - giving great atmosphere to the narrative. The music too, between scenes was very evocative and suited the mood of the play extremely well.
May I thank everyone concerned with the production for a very pleasant and thought provoking evening. May I also wish you every success with your next production.