If You Fall

Conceived by Nir Paldi
Ad Infinitum
HOME Manchester

Full Company If You Fall Credit: Camilla Adams
Robin Paley Yorke and Heather Williams Credit: Camilla Adams
Jabari Ngozi and Kirris Riviere Credit: Camilla Adams
Clive Duncan Credit: Camilla Adams
Clive Duncan, Robin Paley Yorke and Elisabeth Gunawan Credit: Camilla Adams
Jabari Ngozi Credit: Camilla Adams

The audience enters for this play, devised by the cast with original director Nir Paldi (the final production was directed by Helena Middleton), to see Margaret (Heather Williams) lying on a hospital bed as purple-gowned carers move around her. Then she sits up to tell us that her funeral service was "all right", but it tended to focus too much on her final couple of years in that bed (like how much she liked sitting up watching the TV) rather than what she achieved during the rest of her life (she served time as a local councillor, amongst many other things).

Margaret's story, from when her remarkably active lifestyle for an 80-year-old came to an abrupt end after a fall at home up to her death, frames this mixture of stories that are extremely familiar to those of us with recent experience of our overstretched and underfunded care system for the elderly. However, there is no political point-scoring or explicit criticism of anyone involved; just a very accurate portrayal of the trauma and heartache for the person being cared for, the families who have to make those decisions and those whose job it is to look after people in the final months of years of their lives.

Margaret has three adult children; the youngest (Elisabeth Gunawan) wants them to look after her themselves in her own home, the eldest (Clive Duncan) is convinced they can't possibly give her the care she needs and she should go into a care home, while the middle child (Robin Paley Yorke) remains firmly on the fence. Margaret is adamant she should stay at home and won't let professional carers or therapists come near her, which means her dementia isn't diagnosed until it is too late.

Then we are introduced to the exuberant personality of Mr Daniels (Kirris Riviere), making a tasty sounding Caribbean spicy stew while his son (Jabari Ngozi) gets his new TV working so he can watch the cricket. His tale of the great West Indian fast bowlers of the 1970s is clearly one he has told often before, but his behaviour is changing, noticed especially by his friend (Duncan again). When his son eventually gets him to see a doctor, he is diagnosed with early-onset dementia at the age of 56 and ends up in a care home, where he soon fails to recognise his own boy.

The climax of the whole piece is a lovely tender moment between the son and another resident of the care home (Duncan yet again), in which the younger man voices the fear, frustration, confusion and guilt that most people feel in his situation and the older man gives him a small amount of comfort.

The performances are completely convincing and compelling all round, with every character coming across as equally sympathetic and none portrayed as 'right' or 'wrong' in the decisions they make for themselves or for those in their care.

There is some very effective use of music which is all vocal, including the beatboxing on the backing track (composer and sound designer Jack Drewry), and of movement (movement director Deb Pugh).

This is a moving, sometimes very funny and accurate portrayal of what it is like to suddenly be responsible for the care of a parent and have to make difficult decisions about what is 'best' for them—and for you—perhaps not ones you never thought you would make, or promised you wouldn't. I would recommend it to anyone, but it is especially relevant to those of us who have been affected by the issues listed in the content warning.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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