Vera is raging outside, desperate to penetrate a residential care home. No, this is not a thriller. Vera is a storm that threatens to engulf the world that exists for five elderly ladies in Gravesend, and the river is rising. She does deserve a special mention though, as the lighting and sound effects throughout this play, written by Sandi Toksvig, are very well done.
Amidst the thunder and Shipping Forecast snippets on the radio, we meet Gloria, played by Sheila Reid (famous for playing Madge in the TV series, Benidorm), clad in leopard skin pantsuit trying to take a selfie video for her great nephew, Nathan. She is obviously quite a character who refuses to dress or act as expected, trying to maintain contact with the outside world through her pink mobile phone. Four more residents gradually appear and reveal their characters through their conversations and relationships (or not) with each other. So far, so good. Unfortunately, too much of the ladies’ banter is very stereotyped. There is comedy throughout, but a lot of it relies on fat, gay, racist, and yes, even fart jokes. I did wonder whether we were back in the 1970s until I remembered the mobile phone!
Hope (Keziah Joseph), a young, black care worker enters the fray to help evacuate the residents. Cue: questions about where she is from, ‘The Caribbean?’ asks June (Joanna Monro), who later proceeds to justify not being racist by showing that she is knitting cardigans for children in Africa. Hope certainly changes the energy with her frantic movements and rising panic in discovering what she is dealing with. But Hope too is really a mouthpiece for a series of lines and statements rather than a fully rounded emotional character who we can care about and watch develop. The ladies all get monologues in the second act but even this glimpse into their pasts is not enough to give them living, breathing personalities.
The character I felt worked best was May, played by Maggie McCarthy, wheelchair bound and full of witty one liners. A lesbian, who worked at the BBC, she is often sparring with her sister, June, but mainly belittling herself, ‘The last time I felt a sense of urgency, was when I was given a box of chocolate covered prunes for my birthday’. A play about May would be worth seeing
Sandi Toksvig wrote this play to celebrate older women and create great parts for older actresses. I really wanted to enjoy it more. Maybe it would work better as a radio play where one could focus more on what was being said and less on how it was visually being played. ★★☆☆☆ Karin Andre 22nd February 2017