Memories: we all have them; we treasure them, share them and capture them. But what if yours were suddenly taken from you? How would you and your family cope?
At first glance, the Peels seem like your typical family. Flamboyant father Tom (Nicholas Garsden) is a free-spirited art history teacher who encourages self-expression and has passed his love of life on to his three eccentric children. Eleven-year-old Darcy (Finn Caulfied) is obnoxious and outspoken, 14-year-old Chloe (Maiah Stewardson) is insightful and wise beyond her years, and 16-year-old Max (Bodhi Shribman) is a typical teenager embarrassed by his “weird” family.
Together with Tom’s spritely mother Agnes (Bridget Walters) and loving girlfriend Charlotte (Ashton Malcolm), the Peels fill their days with fun, laughter and the treasured Friday night tradition of hot chips for dinner. But then Chloe begins to notice strange changes in her father’s behaviour: at first, it’s just small things like misplacing his keys, but as the months fly by Tom becomes irritable, distant and easily confused and the family can no longer pretend things are okay. Then comes the startling diagnosis. Dementia.
As Tom’s condition worsens, his helpless family is forced to watch as the loving and vibrant man they once knew slowly disappears. Tensions boil and bonds are tested until a frightening event forces the family to make a heart-wrenching decision.
Written by Sean Riley and directed by Glenn Hayden, Urban Myth Theatre Company’s The Visitors explores the devastating effect dementia has not only on the sufferer but also on those they love. Set in the Peel family kitchen, an intricately detailed and lovingly decorated room, the play opens on the excessively energetic family as they prepare for yet another Friday night.
Garsden delivers a strong performance as Tom, a passionate family man who clearly thrives on attention, but as his condition worsens his behaviour changes dramatically; his once-cheery smile fades and his eyes seem to grow dark and distant. He is haunted by an unnamed girl (Ella Lawry) who lingers on the outskirts of the set, stalking him and peering in through the windows like an unwelcome guest. Lawry is a haunting physical representation of Tom’s disease and, as her power over him grows, she begins to invade not only his mind but also his home. Each time Lawry appears, the stage lights darken and eerie music begins to play, dramatically signalling Tom’s departure from the “real” world.
The young cast handles the play’s demanding content well, delivering impressive and emotional performances. Shribman excels as Max, an angry young man struggling to repair his fractured relationship with his father and find his place within the family. Like his siblings, Max is forced to grow up quickly in the wake of Tom’s diagnosis and his personality transforms as he becomes the family’s pillar of strength and protection. Stewardson is wonderful as Chloe, an emotional young girl struggling to accept the changes threatening her family’s world, while Caulfied and Walters deliver comedic performances as Darcy and Agnes. Malcolm also shines as Charlotte, a brave young woman who is forced to watch as the man she fell in love with slips away forever. The cast’s emotional performances during Tom’s diagnosis brought tears to my eyes and the powerful scenes that followed sent chills up my spine.
At 110 minutes, there were times when this play felt overly long, and this is its biggest downfall. Overall, however, The Visitors is a hauntingly powerful play.
Suitable for audiences 12 years and over, The Visitors is being performed as part of the Come Out Festival. It is playing at the Goodwood Theatre, Goodwood Institute, until June 8.
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