ONE LAST WALTZ, Hope Theatre - Review

One of the milestones as an adult in the 21st Century is contending with a parent who has dementia. In Britain today, 496,000 adults a year are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and the numbers domestically and globally show no sign of abating. Most people when they are suffering the early stages of this debilitating illness put it down to old age, their minds not as alert as before, which is true in a sense. If memories maketh the person, what happens to a person's sense of identity? How are they perceived by family, by society as large?

One Last Waltz, an all-female three-hander, opens with Alice (Annie Sawle) rummaging around some packed boxes and finding an old pair of dance shoes. We soon learn, however, that she was supposed to be looking for photo albums for her daughter Mandy (Susan Mitchell) and that she had forgotten what she came for initially. Sounds like something we all do – fairly innocuous. As the play progresses, we soon see that Alice suffers from extreme short-term memory loss and that despite complaining about her daughter 'fussing' about her, is reliant on her for remembering the most basic things.

One of the few things that Alice remembers vividly is her trips to seaside towns with her late husband, especially Blackpool. After Mandy repeatedly suggests to her mother that a return visit to Blackpool would be nice, Alice warms to the idea. Upon arriving there, the ladies are met by Georgette (Adrina Carroll) the hotel manager whose initial brisk demeanour thaws away rapidly and takes more than a casual interest in the hotel's latest visitors...

Luke Adamson who wrote and directed the play shows a deft hand at keeping events relatable and grounded. Based on real experiences, the play feels truthful without veering into melodrama.

Sawle shows verve as the spirited Alice, full of life and headstrong, but her confidence slowly chipped away by the increasing gaps in her memory... Mitchell's Mandy, meanwhile exhibits her own smorgasbord of emotions, mirroring the stages of grieving – denial, anger, acceptance... As frustrating as it is for Alice, it's through Mandy that we see the emotional toll that Alzheimer's has on a daily basis on the carer, on family. Completing the triumvirate, Carroll offers more than a consoling word to the mother and daughter, compelled beyond the call of duty to be of service and for the purposes of the play, an example of the practical way of dealing and coping with Alzheimer's.

One Last Waltz in terms of structure is simply told, but what it does, it does do well. A play about three women – not an ingénue among them – is a rare thing, but what really sells the play is the emotional resonance with the characters. Flawed, but totally relatable, and insights into the emotional cost of a cruel disease that robs one's identity.

© Michael Davis 2015

One Last Waltz ran at the Hope Theatre from 9-14 November 2015 and will return again on tour.

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