Tristan Bates Theatre
Reviewed – 18th October 2018
“There is an outstanding performance from Hazel Maycock, whose portrayal of Betty is worth the price of admission alone”
Dementia is one of the biggest health and social challenges we currently face. Most people know someone affected by this cruel illness and whilst in general mental health is something increasingly spoken about, dementia still has an element of public stigma about it. It is encouraging to see more theatres presenting plays with dementia at the core of the story and one such production from Kali Theatre certainly forces the audience to think deeply about their attitude to the topic.
Sundowning is an eighty minute play by Nessah Muthy which introduces us to Betty, a dementia sufferer, her daughter Teresa and the troubled Alyssa. The title refers to a state of increased agitation, confusion, disorientation and anxiety that typically occurs in the late afternoon or evening in some individuals affected with dementia.
The play opens with Betty on a bed in a care home displaying realistic signs of vagueness. Either side of the room are two doors through which Teresa and Alyssa come and go as each scene moves. To the rear of the stage is a window through which we see changes in the light and darkness of the days as time progresses.
The story appears to be well researched and though not all autobiographical some parts are from Muthy’s own family experience with the disease. We see how difficult it is for all affected and it gives us a glimpse into the realities of caring for someone afflicted by it.
There is an outstanding performance from Hazel Maycock, whose portrayal of Betty is worth the price of admission alone. She certainly conveys to the audience a very realistic version of a dementia sufferer with an unnerving amount of confusion yet remembering well her beloved late husband Jimmy. Whilst her marriage was an important part of her life that she hasn’t forgotten, arguably it does form a little too much of the play. Aasiya Shah makes Alyssa a believable character whose life has gone off the rails but has a deep down love for her Nan and wants to take her from the care home for one last holiday. The third cast member Nadia Nadif as Teresa has less of a character to get to grips with, though it is clear she finds Alyssa’s sudden appearance an annoyance as she struggles to do what she think is best for her mum.
The sound design (Dinah Mullen) enhances the production. The mix of white noise and excerpts of 60s pop songs helps to give an idea of how Betty’s brain is working. The lighting design (Pablo Fernandez Baz) works well and particularly so in the last scene.
Whilst some parts of the performance did seem to drag a little on occasions, director Helena Bell generally makes the performance flow well. Overall, whilst Sundowning is not a fun night out at the theatre, congratulations should be given to all involved in this thought provoking production which can only raise the awareness and better understanding of dementia.
Reviewed by Steve Sparrow
Photography by Robert Day
Tristan Bates Theatre until 3rd November
Previously reviewed at this venue: