Forever Young

Erik Gedeon
Nottingham Playhouse

Production photo by Robert Day

The year is 2050 and Nottingham Playhouse closed ten years previously. It was bought by Dame Rosemary Squire, who was raised in Nottinghamshire, and turned into a rest-home for retired actors.

A sister enters the empty lounge of a nursing home. She sprays the chairs and settee to get rid of the smells made by the elderly residents before dusting four paintings of theatrical luminaries of the past. John Neville, the first artistic director of Nottingham Playhouse when it moved to Wellington Circus, hangs alongside Sir Richard Eyre who was in charge in the 1970s; Pip Broughton, the first woman to take on the role of artistic director; and Sir Giles Croft, knighted by King Charles III in 2019.

This is the background to Forever Young, the brainchild of Swiss-born Erik Gedeon, creator of the "song drama" genre. The work's been in the repertoire of Hamburg's Thalia Theatre for more than nine years. It's also been presented by theatres across Germany and by Norway's national theatre Det Norske Teatret.

As well as the British offering adapted by Giles Croft in consultation with Gedeon, this year there'll be productions in Denmark, Sweden and Finland.

All I can say is: why has it taken so long for a British theatre to pick up Forever Young? It's an astute production and a detailed observation of how elderly people move, function and are motivated.

There's not much of a plot - after all, not a lot happens on a typical day in a nursing home - but stylish acting, great timing and a superb selection of songs ensure this is an evening to remember.

The residents do as they're told while Sister Sara is in the room - but as soon as she leaves, they belt out the numbers and behave in a way that only old people can.

The actors play themselves and are addressed as Mr or Ms. There's Claire Storey who's star-struck and as glamorous as she's always been; Mark Jardine, her companion with a pronounced limp who does his own outrageous version of 'You Can Leave Your Hat On' from The Full Monty; and long-haired, flatulence-prone John Elkington, a veteran of the Playhouse panto, who passes around a huge spliff which helps everyone to hit the right notes in the Eurythmics' song 'Sweet Dreams'.

Other residents are the continually coughing, forgetful, easily embarrassed Jason Pennycooke who splashes water everywhere when he carries a goldfish bowl around with him; Stefan Bednarczyk, the musical director whose excellent piano playing is punctuated only by interludes when he reaches for his oxygen mask; and the delightful Rebecca Little, another panto regular who evokes guffaws from the audience every time she swears as only an older person can.

Sara Poyzer, previously seen at the Playhouse in Satin 'n' Steel and All Quiet on the Western Front, is also enjoyable as the tactless sister, especially when she performs a Gedeon song called 'Dying'.

Forever Young includes slapstick, music-hall variety, a clever melange of well-known lines from Shakespeare, dancing - Mr Jardine and Ms Storey perform 'Bolero' in a way that Torvill and Dean never thought it would be staged - and magic straight out of the Tommy Cooper book of tricks. Giles Croft hasn't simply thrown all the elements in for effect - everything has its place and adds to the evening's hilarity.

There are also sad moments - Ms Storey is dejected when her wig comes off and the song 'Forever Young' is quite tearful.

Other numbers have been chosen for maximum impact. Ms Little convinces us that she's a Barbie Girl, the whole cast show they can rock during Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' and Mr Elkington performs an intricate medley of snatches of songs including the poignant line "Hope I die before I get old".

If other companies can perform Forever Young as well as Giles Croft's troupe, this song drama might well still be produced in 2050. It certainly gives everyone a lesson in how to grow old disgracefully!

"Forever Young" runs until February 27th

Reviewer: Steve Orme

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