Barney Norris
Watermill Theatre
The Watermill Theatre Newbury

The company Credit: Pamela Raith photography
Nathalie Barclay and Tessa Bell-Briggs Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

Visitors, written and deftly directed by Barney Norris, is a beguiling story that movingly explores family relationships and dementia.

Set on a farm in the Salisbury Plain, designers Good Teeth have created the rustic, harsh atmosphere of country living. There are cornstalks growing on either side of the stage and armchairs built for comfort filling the room with a television in the corner, creating a homely comfortable farmhouse.

James Whiteside’s golden lighting hints of halcyon days from the past when Arthur and his wife Edie were young and healthy.

But, now in their seventies, life has become challenging as Edie, superbly acted by Tessa Bell-Briggs, is suffering from dementia and Arthur, impressively played by Christopher Ravenscroft, is finding it difficult to cope. Their loving relationship is heart-rendering.

Help comes from the young, blue-haired graduate Kate (Nathalie Barclay) who becomes not only Edie’s carer but part of the family. She is on a journey of discovery, trying to make her way in today’s confusing world.

The relationship between Kate and Edie develops with both kindness and understanding, despite Edie’s dementia taking control of her mind with mood swings that change from lucid memories of her early life, her wedding day and life on the farm to moments of total confusion and frustration. Yet there are moments of courage and dignity as she accepts her situation.

Arthur’s stoicism as he cares for his wife whilst remembering postwar England where “they used to hang paper bags on a nail over the fireplace” is touching. A remarkable, poignant performance.

Patrick Toomey is the wayward son Stephen, who plans to put his mother in a home and sell the farm. He rejected the opportunity to take over the family’s farm and instead chose the apparently safe career of becoming a life insurance salesman. But his marriage is now in tatters and divorce is imminent.

He is struggling to reconcile his relationship with his parents and seeking a new future for himself with apprehension and uncertainty but is still supported by his loving mother.

This is an uplifting emotionally charged production that is simply splendid.

Reviewer: Robin Strapp

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