THE 2016/17 season at Bath Theatre Royal’s Ustinov Theatre starts with another triumphant production, Half Life, a play by Canadian academic and scientist John Mighton, directed by Nancy Meckler.
The play, set in 1999 (the Year of Older Persons), discusses how we ignore our professional standpoints in our personal interactions, how our expectations are dictated by experience, and how we view youth and age.
Clara and Agnes, in varying stages of dementia, live in a Canadian nursing home. A new resident, Patrick, has just arrived.
The beautiful Clara has a middle-aged, angst- ridden, divorced and brilliant son, Donald. He is at the cutting edge of research into Artificial Intelligence, piecing together the places where the human brain and machines differ and can be engineered to converge.
But for all his researches, his mother is his mother, and his expectations and assumptions are unshakeable. He’s looking out for her, he thinks, spotting thieving nurses in the home, and suspecting Patrick’s motives.
Half Life is also a love story. Did Clara and Patrick know each other many years ago, or is the memory an illusion?
The emotional vicar who regularly visits the home, Rev Hill, makes an interesting point. One patient, who has lost the power of proper speech, always greets him with a huge smile and the cry of “D D D D”. It is regarded as a sad comment on her decrepitude.
But when an infant learning to talk repeats the same letter when it sees its father, it is a cause for joy and congratulation.
This multi-faceted play is poignant and thought provoking, brilliantly performed by an exceptional cast, all schooled in Canadian accent by Charmain Hoare – you never think they are American.
Helen Ryan is the charming, happy and forgetful Clara, with Patrick Godfrey as Patrick, proving that he really WAS a codebreaker in the war. Raymond Coulthard returns to the Ustinov as the selfish Donald, with Silas Carson as a tortured Rev Hill.
It’s another terrific play at the Ustinov, where artistic director Laurence Boswell is spoiling regional audiences with opportunities to see British premieres of important international plays, before their London counterparts.
Half Life is on until Saturday 5th November. Do see it if you can.
Photographs by Simon Annand