Arthur’s family has lived in the farmhouse for generations, with Edie since she joined him as a young bride from the village. Their plans for three or four children reduced to the one difficult boy, Stephen, who left home young for a career in life insurance, the British capital of which was just up the road in Swindon.
Edie has been diagnosed with what is now fashionably pronounced demen’cha, with all its unpredictable progression through blinding wisdom, incomprehensible babble, repetitive behaviour and inexorable decline.
Arthur’s not too fit himself, anxious that neither Stephen nor the authorities know he has the occasional fall. He wants to look after not only the farm with its fields and its chickens, but also the wife he loves. They really do want to be together.
The audience meets them on the morning when Kate arrives to share their home and help them when they need it. She’s a blue-haired law graduate who has spent the summer WWOOFing in France, and is looking for her future. She’s kind, funny, affectionate and non-judgmental.
She is the “visitor” to the family home, but in nothing like so real a sense as is Stephen, a selfish thoughtless bore who blames his parents’ happiness for his own unfulfilled life.
It could so easily be a story of rural isolation and geriatric decline, but Norris (still only 27) has skillfully avoided predictability and sentimentality in this brilliant play he dedicates to his grandparents.
Up in Arms, the theatre company he set up with director Alice Hamilton, has been fortunate in casting the wonderful Linda Bassett in the central role of Edie, who, with Robin Soans as Arthur, provide a totally believable couple whose own happy, wickedly funny, reminiscences could so easily be dismissed as confused babble by the arrogant box tickers.
Eleanor Wyld’s Kate is a delight, fitting into the farmhouse to the manor born, happy to sing along to Janis Joplin and help with the business of life.
And Simon Muller’s Stephen manages to capture the needy misery of a man who has no care, love or interest in his own roots.
Norris’s is an urgent and important new theatrical voice.
The Visitors tour continues around the country until its final performances at Salisbury Playhouse’s Salberg Studio on 7th and 8th April. I urge you to buy a ticket now.
Rehearsal photograph by Chloe Wicks.
Footnote. Barney Norris runs workshop programmes for Salisbury Playhouse and Southampton Nuffield.