Still Alice

Adapted by Christine Mary Dunford from the book by Lisa Genova
Leeds Playhouse
Richmond Theatre

Based on the 2007 novel, and seen on the big screen in 2014, Still Alice is a delicate portrayal of one woman’s descent into early onset dementia.

As a brilliant academic, Alice Howell has a hectic life including lecturing, presenting and publishing. It’s stressful but she thrives, part of a scientific power couple who have co-authored books as well as raising two children.

With her husband chasing grants and funding, her daughter in LA trying to launch an acting career and her son a successful lawyer, they are a loving but distant family, each with their own goals and careers. The early signs are easy to miss but Alice herself begins to realise, and to worry.

In the pivotal role of Alice, Sharon Small is heartbreakingly realistic, quietly taking the audience on an emotional rollercoaster as she begins to question her senses and her failing memory. Her inner self, played with great warmth by Eva Pope, is initially supportive, the logical academic winning through, but eventually becomes equally disorientated.

Eloquently produced, this is a production that places relationships at the forefront of the staging, both emotionally and physically. David Grindley’s tight direction clearly depicts the shifts in the family dynamic as well as Alice’s gradual disassociation from her inner self. Almost a comedy double act in the first scene, by the end of the performance, Eva Pope’s Herself has drifted out of sight. Similarly, the subtle changes in set mirror Alice’s journey, the cluttered kitchen eventually giving way to a large, empty stage.

As much as the piece is about Alice, it’s also an honest reflection of the struggles that her relatives face, subconsciously grieving for the mum who seems to be slipping away from them, trying to do their best for this familiar but new person. As husband John, Martin Marquez moves through denial, frustration and wistfulness trying to balance practicality with emotion in a largely understated but affecting performance.

Similarly, her children, played by Mark Armstrong and Ruth Ollman, navigate difficult roles, the children now becoming the adults of the relationship.

Whilst the situation and performances are raw, this is not a melancholy piece. Alice is not alone and the touching final scene confirms that although life can be extremely hard, there are always small pleasures to be found, moments of peace amongst the chaos.

Running at 1 hour 30, this is a perfectly judged play, an impactful and unflinching snapshot that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Reviewer: Amy Yorston