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Really Old, Like Forty Five

Tamsin Oglesby
RNT Cottesloe
(2010)

Production photo

Really Old, Like Forty Five is a dystopian comedy, assuming that such a genre exists. It blends two themes, a family drama and a chilling look into the near future, where the old are swamping the rest, at least in numerical terms, and the country seeks a (final) solution.

To start with, Tamsin Oglesby writes with knowledge and pain about the frustrations of seeing a loved one slowly succumbing to Alzheimer's disease.

Her director Anna Mackmin has been blessed with a superb cast, of whom three shine brighter than their colleagues, quite conceivably more through the characters that they portray than greater talent.

The first, Judy Parfitt, capturing the innocence and desperate agony of this terrible illness, takes the part of Lyn, so clever that she had been a contestant on University Challenge, before pursuing a career in academia. By the time that we meet her and the extended family, however, Lyn can hardly remember from one minute to the next, regressing far into a painful second childhood.

She receives great support from Oglesby surrogate, daughter Cathy played by Amelia Bullmore, Gawn Grainger as Robbie her perennially young brother with a terrible secret and Marcia Warren as sister Alice.

However, the reactions of the younger generation are often most telling. The likeable Thomas Jordan is teenaged Dylan, a street-smart gaming addict with both heart and soul. He and a borrowed granddaughter, the pregnant Millie (Lucy May Barker), both make the kind of fresh observations that tired, wary adults dare not.

The family drama is interwoven with science fiction that at times seems to owe something to Nazi experimentation. Paul Ritter has a gem of a role as he hilariously plays Monroe, a Professor who propagates views about the old that would be unbelievable if so many did not mirror policies pursued by successive Governments to keep the young off the statistics, if not the streets.

It has, however, to be said that his three-lane pavement with speed restrictions and overtaking should be introduced without further delay.

More worrying is the anti-Alzheimer's drug that causes happiness and then death in quick succession, leading to the supreme (if a little predictable) irony when Monroe himself is diagnosed with the disease, generating an acting tour de force.

The final scenes take place in a clinic borrowed from 1984, where beds empty faster than they can fill. There, we witness Lyn's inevitable deterioration but do so through a mixture of rich comedy and horror.

The star of this section and debatably the whole play is the magnificent Michela Meazza, playing a palliative robotic nurse with ironic angel's wings. Miss Meazza does not put a muscle wrong in half an hour of performing perfection, so good that one cannot fail to be astonished when she takes a bow in human form.

The different parts do not always gel but Really Old, Like Forty Five is an intelligent attempt to make sense of the problems of an ageing society viewed from both societal and human perspectives.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher