Let It Be Me by Carey Jane Hardy - directed by Gwen Peplow and Chris Wright---------------------
"Both the directors and Sylvia are to be applauded for their remarkable characterisation of an elderly lady suffering from the neuro-degenerative condition of Alzheimers Disease. Whether based on experience or guesswork I dont know but the range of emotions displayed by Sylvia, from sheer delight (at the birthday cake or her dressing up by Trixie in a posh dress) to bewildered distress at the sight of the broken jigsaw puzzle, were entirely convincing. At no time did this character slip nor did the actress overplay, descend into pathos or attempt to draw sympathy from the audience. Just unrelenting, uncomprehending and sometimes childlike responses to a world she could not make sense of from a diminishing store of memories that seemed stuck 30-40 years in the past. A strong complement to Sylvia was her niece and carer, Amy. Amy was wonderfully played as the middle-aged lady that had willingly sacrificed any ambitions of her own to care for the woman that cared for her during her childhood. The weariness and the patience of dealing daily, for years, with a childlike but elderly dependant was captured well but so was the love and compassion for her aunt. Her one relief was her passion for old books until a meeting with an antiquarian bookseller awakened in her the realisation that there may be more to life than drudgery, however freely given. Gregory, the object of Amy's new interest, was played a little hesitantly (perhaps first night nerves) and the contrast that perhaps should have been evident between his gentle wooing of the first act and his more assertive attempts to persuade Amy to contemplate a less self-less way of life in the second act, were absent. Amy's friends, Kate and Trixie provided some of the lighter moments, with Kate's proclivity for men and Trixie's for alcohol reminding the audience and Amy herself that life does not have to be lived the hard way. Kate's interplay with old flame and Amy's cousin, Colin (well played and with a refreshing degree of pace and light and shade in the voice), was funny and gave the audience legitimate reason to laugh and relieve the gloom - a gloom that was cast by the convincing performances of the two central characters, Sylvia and Amy, rather than an inappropriate audience reaction. "Let It Be Me" should encourage us all (or at least those untouched by it) to be jolly grateful that it isn't us that are affected by Alzheimer's Disease and more sympathetic to those that are. I was pleased to see that the raffle in aid of Alzhemier's was well supported."
Stewart Adkins-National Operatic and Dramatic Association
"Alzheimer's Disease is not usually a subject for theatrical treatment. It is something that has, or might all too soon, afflict too many of us, and whilst we are sympathetic to the plight of those immediately concerned, on the whole we would rather not think about it.
So it was with some trepidation that I went to find the Phoenix Theatre Company in their temporary home at the Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford.
The company who have performed at Moulsham Lodge Community Centre for something like 30 years found themselves homeless while this production was in rehearsal, and had to endure a lot of stress and worry until a slot was found for them at the Old Court.
It says a lot for the company spirit that the transition was managed without difficulty. I was very impressed with the quality of their offering.
By sheer force of their personalities the audience was obliged to think about a subject they would rather not face; to pity the poor lost victim whose memories and whole persona are in retreat; the sheer grinding tedium of daily life for those who care for a much-loved, but now sometimes exasperating relative; the re-actions of friends and neighbours, however helpfully intended. These varied from the casual, uncaring nephew Colin who pops in when it suits him, (usually to make things worse), to the bossy neighbour whose idea of being helpful is to play dressing-up games as if with a retarded child.
And what of the principal carer, Amy, who genuinely loves her afflicted aunt but has allowed her to perpetuate a fantasy world?
And of the man who appears as if by magic to offer Amy a way out into the normal world of love and marriage?
"Let it be me" (in the words of the song) is not a barrel of laughs, although there are welcome shafts of humour in the attitudes and actions of some of the characters, but it is an emotionally charged experience which cannot fail to engage an audience when it is as well acted as it was on this occasion.
Set and Front of House It would not be fair to comment on the front of house for which Phoenix were not responsible, but their coffee was hot and refreshments served with a big smile. It was an excellent ploy to have a raffle, the proceeds of which will go to the Alzheimer's Society.
I was a bit unhappy with the set - again this is probably a side-effect of not being in their own home, but I did feel that a family home, in which we are told Aunt Sylvia and Amy had lived for many years, would have looked more lived in, more comfortable, and possibly more convincing if it had had a few feminine touches, such as, perhaps, some flowers and the odd table lamp. Nothing too difficult.
The Cast The play stands or falls on the ability to find an actress capable of giving a convincing portrait of someone who is losing the plot, but who still has moments of total lucidity and control, not to say the odd tantrum. Elizabeth Myddleton-Evans brought total conviction to her role, giving us poignant glimpses of the much beloved aunt she had been before illness struck her, yet descending into panic and hysteria whenever something or someone disturbed her. Her obsessive conviction that her neice Amy was still a schoolchild who would appear at the garden gate for tea at any minute was entirely convincing. An excellent performance which I cannot fault. Liz Curley playing Amy was another excellent casting - she was delightfully warm, caring, and patient, but also succeeded in making us aware that she was on the edge of breakdown, as her aunt entirely failed to recognise her, but persisted in the obsession that 'Amy' would walk in at any moment. One could absolutely sense the frustration, and the hurt the adult Amy felt as she coped with the needs and restrictions of caring for her aunt without recognition of her loving attentions, unable to see any way out.
The transformation when Amy meets and falls in love with an elderly man, met through a mutual passion for antiquarian books, is quite magical. From a plain, dumpy woman she has almost literally lit up from within; she glows with pleasure at the attention and one sees what a loved and loving niece she would have been before Aunt Sylvia's illness struck, and the strength of affection and obligation which will not allow her even to contemplate the possibility of putting her into a care home.
"Amy" was lucky in having friends to support her and all were well cast (and very well dressed). First came Kate, played by Angela Gee. who is large, exuberant, flirtatious and determined to prize Amy out of her seclusion, but does, at bottom, provide genuine help and support.
She is nobody's fool and her on-going spats with Colin, and her attempts to flirt with him were essential to relieve the emotional tension.
Colin, Aunt Sylvia's nephew, played by Reg Peters is a bit of a cad. He will drop in from time to time, but has no intention of taking any responsibility. His insistence on taking his aunt 'for a spin' in his car is an ego-trip for him, rather than any genuine help, with predictably disastrous results. But he has some nice racy asides, and helps to lighten what might otherwise be a rather heavy evening.
Trixie played by Leila Francis is another would be helpful neighbour, She will do the shopping for Amy, but like so many of us has no real conception of Aunt Sylvia's condition, and is convinced that speaking of things at which she used to excel, such as Bridge and Scrabble, will help her to recall her memory rather than to remind her of how much she has lost.
The episode when she dresses Aunt Sylvia up like an over-grown doll is heart-rendingly macabre, as is the pretend 'birthday party' complete with balloons, chocolate cake and candles intended to re-inforce the illusion that 'Amy' is still a school-girl.
They say it is the outsider who sees most of the game, and Gregory Roberts the antiquarian bookseller played by Syd Smith is the catalyst who brings everything to a head.
Tall, distinguished looking and every inch the part (even if he was not always word-perfect) this gentleman strikes up an instant rapport with Amy, and the two are soon in love, cheered on enthusiastically by the rest of the cast.
The only trouble is that Amy refuses to budge in her conviction that she, and she alone, is responsible for her aunt.
After some dramatic developments at the 'birthday party' Greg is finally left alone with Aunt Sylvia and gently manages to re-awaken her recognition for her devoted niece. As the lovers embrace, we are left with the feeling that a log-jam has broken and that some resolution of the problem will be found.
The direction by Gwen Peplow and Chris Wright was a second collaboration by this pair, and went without hitch.
Altogether an excellent production, about which I was extremely doubtful on reading the script In the event I was totally drawn into the action, and thoroughly enjoyed. It really made me think about this dreadful disease, and should probably be required viewing for anyone involved in the treatment and support of sufferers. The casting was excellent, well differentiated and avoiding all temptation towards sentimentality.
When I begin to slide down the slippery slope I only hope there are such caring family and friends on hand to support me."
Jan Wise-North West Essex Theatre Guild
"PHOENIX has never shirked a challenge, and they really pulled out all the
stops in this study of the effects of Alzheimer's.
Liz Curley as the carer and Syd Smith act as the love interest creating the conflict in the uncomfortable familiarity of dependant domesticity.
The directors, Gwen Peplow and Chris Wright, are to be congratulated for developing the ideas to create a thoughtful and moving production within strictly unsentimental guidelines.
The ending is a rather unsatisfying 'will she? wont she?' But suspicion is that, for her, caring is an uncomfortable but necessary crutch to protect her from the outside world.
Elizabeth Myddleton-Evans is the confused and frightened old biddy who,
like a new born baby, has no idea of the impact she is having on the lives of those upon whom she depends.
It falls on Trixie, played as a flighty but perceptive family friend by Leila Francis, to sum up the couple's plight, in a well-delivered speech of measured tones. All in all, this was good theatre, well developed and with real emotion, expert lighting and well-chosen music."
Jim Hutchon-Weekly News