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Banana Crabtree Simon

25 March 2018

Dealing with Dementia

Banana Crabtree Simon

by David Hendon

Rigmarole Productions at Drayton Arms Theatre, South Kensington, until 14th April

Review by Georgia Renwick

Dementia. Whether we are at an age where we fear it for ourselves, or whether we fear it for the sake of our loved ones, dementia has a foreboding, threatening presence in the lives of millions of families. Whether you have read in the headlines that diagnosis is on the increase (the UK is estimated to reach one million people living with the disease in the next two years) or have first-hand experience, it is a difficult subject fraught with emotion.

In this new play from David Hendon (a finalist in The Kenneth Branagh New Drama Writing Award in both 2016 and 2017), 50-year-old Alan is facing an early-onset dementia diagnosis. The words ‘Banana Crabtree Simon’ all mean something to him, they are the three words that repeated over and over keep him resolute that he isn’t losing his mind. But they are slipping; he is slipping. His past is melding with his present as his future slips through his fingers, and he is agonisingly powerless to stop it.

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Holding court for an hour, CJ de Mooi delivers a well-paced and sensitively executed performance. He has reached TV fame for his memory as a panellist on the BBC show Eggheads and off-screen has competed as a professional quizzer. Perhaps it is this experience he draws on in his performance as the cruelty of the disease plays out. Mooi, who more than most must have come to rely so heavily on the sharpness and accuracy of his memory, captures in raw emotion the horror and betrayal Alan must feel as his memory becomes more unreliable, but his conviction in it remains unwavering. Mooi’s likeable and upbeat portrayal of Alan must gradually give way to a character almost unrecognisable, which he performs with sensitivity and emotional dexterity. It’s a frankly exhausting range of emotions to go through without even leaving the stage. Alan’s dramatic change of character is a cruelty anyone who has been there to support a dementia sufferer will surely recognise. Regardless of experience, you can feel the audience willing the bright-eyed Alan from 40 minutes earlier to come back.

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Hendon’s script does not shy away from dementia’s cruelties and we must watch Alan suffer as he relives some of the worst days of his life over and over again. Yet, through Hendon’s writing we can see patterns emerge. There is a comfort and a hope to be found in the measurement of life in increments of births, weddings, of deaths; in life renewing and repeating itself over and over again.

Hendon also finds humour in the bleakness. There are episodes you might recognise from your own life including “Where are my glasses?” You probably don’t need me to tell you the answer: they’re on your head. Or, have you ever woken up feeling ready to go to work, only to remember you’ve already retired? The very real fear of what constitutes ‘normal’ memory loss and what invisible line you must cross to be tested for dementia, is captured in these moments.

Director Daniel Phillips’ has maximised a small studio set by cramming a host of domestic items into it, succinctly capturing the domestic environment of Alan’s life. We see him thumbing lovingly through a box of photos, the tactility of which allows the monologue to bring the family into the room with him through the memories he shares. It isn’t of course just Alan who is living with the disease, but his wife, son and granddaughter along with him. It’s somehow even sadder to watch the disease unfold from the comfort of his armchair, surrounded by his belongings. We don’t need to see hospitals or doctors to realise the seriousness of his condition. We are reminded by this familiarity that it could so easily be us. I am also reminded of the cancer campaign you often see around at the moment: Alan is still Alan, even with dementia, but is there a crossover point? A point of no-return where he isn’t there anymore? Our memories define us, so who are we when they disintegrate?

The searching questions Banana Crabtree Simon raises will only become more pertinent as more patients are diagnosed, and more friends and families must rally to cope. Hendon’s play offers the kind of emotional insight into the experience of those diagnosed with dementia and those supporting them that cannot be wrought through pamphlets. It is this kind of brave and thoughtfully crafted theatre which should in turn be supported.

Georgia Renwick
March 2018

 

Photography courtesy of Rigmarole Productions

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From → Drama, Reviews

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