The Royal Court presents PLAQUES AND TANGLES by Nicola Wilson: Theatre Review

None of us relish the idea of getting old. Even without consciously knowing it, we grasp at ways to prolong the inevitable - whether we’re drinking snot-green smoothies, jogging through the park at 6am or exercising our minds every evening with crosswords and re-runs of The Chase. Medical evidence shows that regular mental stimulation can help deter the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, so I bet learning that new language you’ve always fancied and decluttering your bulging email inbox sounds twice as appealing now, doesn’t it… But what if that still doesn’t mean we’re safe?

Megan, the young protagonist of Nicola Wilson’s brutally honest Plaques and Tangles, is an ardent lexophile (and raging feminist – hurray!). When we first meet her she’s embroiled in a fearsome game of Scrabble with her family, who clearly struggle to contend with her wit and energy. As a young woman on the brink of marriage, Megan finds out she has a 50:50 chance of developing the genetic strain of early-onset Alzheimer’s that indirectly killed her mother. Nevertheless, she throws herself into her hen party and wakes up in bed with Jez (the charming Robert Lonsdale), a young man claiming to be a malacologist and definitely not her husband-to-be!

Despite sitting in the mouth of a shark, Megan initially defies the odds: a bright lexicographer happily married to her once one-night stand, she continues to effervesce with a lust for words and adventure. It is not until years later that she is offered a test to determine whether or not she carries the defective gene, the result of which she hides from Jez and her children (Alice Felgate and Ted Reilly) until the effects of it begin to bleed into her behaviour.

Catapulting through time in an organised jumble of past and present, the play is crafted brilliantly by Wilson, whose language is lyrical and composed without being tongue-tying. She boldly gives us warts-and-all presentations of womanhood and memory loss, or the entanglement of the two in Megan’s case. Director Lucy Morrison’s vision really tunes in to the knotty nature of both the play and Megan’s illness, from the tangled cord of Jez’s phone to the mess of red wool Megan’s mum (Brid Brennan) tries to knit with.

Plaques and Tangles is, at its heart, a play about identity. Megan is a caring mother but in the grip of her disease, she becomes the one that must be cared for. She regresses to a childlike state, acting younger than her own daughter who feels the weight of Megan’s condition particularly heavily. Monica Dolan as the older Megan is outstanding and Ferdy Roberts supports her beautifully as the older Jez with his signature gruff tone and poetic delivery. Rosalind Eleazar, our younger Megan, is full of life and promise, making that impending descent into oblivion all the more tragic. It’s a heart-breaking watch; vivacious Megan gradually getting further away until she is almost lost entirely. We regard memory loss as an unkindness preserved for the elderly, so when the victim is only in her forties, we’re reminded that Alzheimer’s is not fussy about who it takes and when.


© Hannah Roe, 2015



Playing at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court Theatre

Sloane Square, London, SWIW 8AS

Closes 21st November


Monday - Saturday evenings at 7.45pm, Thursday and Saturday matinees at 3pm
Tickets £20 (Some concessions and access tickets available)


Director – Lucy Morrison

Designer – Andrew D. Edwards

Lighting Designer – Anna Watson

Sound Designer – Emily Legg

Movement Director – Polly Bennett

Composer – Daniel Elms

Cast – Monica Dolan, Ferdy Roberts, Rosalind Eleazar, Robert Lonsdale, Brid Brennan, Alice Felgate, Ted Reilly, Vanessa Babirye


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