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For Once I Was

Jon Cooper
Silent Collective
Production supported by Old Vic New Voice Tristan Bates Theatre
(2009)

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It's a little ironic that a play about Alzheimer's should be so forgettable. Alzheimer's is a debilitating and tragic illness that is painful to watch. Yet writer, Jon Cooper seems to feel the need to constantly point this out for fear we miss it in his new play For Once I Was.

Essentially For Once I Was is a story about the relationship between a father (Jacob) and his daughter (Gracie) and building bridges before it's too late. However, despite the numerous flashbacks from which the narrative is compiled, it is never really clear as to why these bridges were burnt in the first place.

Of course it is sad to watch the deterioration of Jacob, which is portrayed sensitively by Edmund Dehn, but the character of Gracie (Rebecca Stevenson) is so unlikeable you can't help but think he'd be better off forgetting her. At first you assume she is merely a belligerent teenager but she never seems to grow up. Why is she so angry at her dad? Why does she hate Jacob's co-worker, Eleanor, who does nothing but simply care for Jacob, and why on earth does she prefer the boy she met at University, two dimensional Matthew, to the loveable Michael (her boyfriend from school). Oh and why does Gracie seem to be addicted to swearing?

I'm afraid to say that these questions are not even answered by the constant monologues to the audience. Just as you feel you may be falling into a scene and getting swept up in a moment, you are abruptly tugged straight out of it by yet another speech. It's a pity as at the centre of all the dramatics there is actually quite a beautiful story as Michael takes Jacob and Gracie on a road trip which is dictated by the tape recordings Jacob made of his life and journey to date, whilst he was able to remember it. They visit the pub where Jacob and Gracie's mother (played in the most peculiar manner by Annabel Pemberton) met, the beach where Jacob found out he was to be a father and there is a touching scene between Jacob, Gracie and Michael in a coffee shop as they play scrabble and allow Jacob to get away with the ridiculous words he places all over the board.

Sadly they don't set off on the trip until the second act and once they do it is persistently interrupted by moments which reek of a GCSE drama piece, such as characters blurring into each other, overlapping of sentences as the characters dart about the stage and, of course, there is a nice dollop of symbolism.

It is not essential that one leaves a play about Alzheimer's feeling depressed but one should certainly leave feeling something. Sadly the only thing I feel is indifferent.

Running to 2nd May 2009

Reviewer: Rachel Sheridan