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Old Fools (Southwark Playhouse)

Old Fools is the story of Tom and Viv, their love and the life they’ve shared together – from first spark to dying light. But not necessarily in that order.

Directed by Sharon Burrell, it is a surprising and touching tale about a couple, their experience of Alzheimer’s, and their enduring efforts to hold their relationship together through the years.

Tristan Bernays is an award winning writer and performer. Teddy premiered at Southwark Playhouse and his other work has been performed at The Globe, Soho Theatre, Bush Theatre, National Theatre Studio and Roundhouse. His play Boudica was performed at The Globe in September 2017 as part of Emma Rice’s Summer of Love season, with Gina McKee in the title role.

★★★★ The Independent, Joe Vesey-Byrne:

'Frances Grey and Mark Arends are spectacularly genuine as Vivian and Tom. Grey turns what could be a dull “straight-laced girlfriend of the artist” into the living, breathing, beating, screaming, heart of the play. Grey carries many of the scenes when Arends as Tom remains muted, warped into silence by his disease, and she similarly slides between doctor, daughter, and wife characters without disrupting the story’s emotional narrative. Arends meanwhile never tips over into caricature as he shows Tom in later life, while as the youthful, cheeky Tom, and ageing “cool” Dad, he exudes adorable charm that makes their romance feel all the more real.'

★★★★ Time Out, Matt Breen:

'' [The play is] grounded in two magnificent performances from Arends and Grey. The former excels in shifting between youthful joie de vivre and crippled indignity; the latter also takes on the additional role of their daughter Alice, in one scene a toddler, a young adult in another.

‘Old Fools’ ultimately plays out not so much as A Play About Dementia but a light-of-touch portrait of a relationship through the prism of memory. It certainly deals with the horrors of dementia – just as chilling as the scenes of humiliating indignity is a scene where a childhood trauma is dragged up from Tom’s failing mind.

Bernays is to be commended for keep this a miniaturist endeavour – at an unbroken 70 minutes, this can be inhaled in one breath. Deft, restraining and moving theatre.'

★★★★★ The Reviews Hub, David Guest:

''This Southwark Playhouse production boasts two heartbreaking and heartwarming performances from Mark Arends and Frances Grey.

They are Tom and Viv, whose story we see in short scenes which contrast the blossoming of their love from their tentative first meeting and through all the challenges, partings and forgiveness, with the stark frustration of an existence where every action and memory becomes a blank within seconds.

Arends is a forceful presence, whether conveying the enthusiasm of young love, the father figure to a cherished daughter, the temperamental child reprimanded by an exasperated mother, or the emptiness and state of unknowing caused by his progressive neurological condition. His eyes sparkle with life as he experiences true love for the first time, grapples with the uncertainty of his work as a musician and watches his daughter grow up, yet he manages to make them vacant and dull in the parts where his illness leaves him a shadow of his former self.  The way in which the play develops mirrors Tom’s own confused recollective state, jumping through time as events flash through the mind to be remembered or forgotten.

Grey effortlessly switches from the central role of Viv, exploring her strengths as a young lover to the isolation and exhaustion of being a carer, to play also other women in Tom’s life – mother, daughter, lover, and doctor. We know that her character strength will allow love to endure and will never leave her powerless, yet we are not spared the moments of pain, dejection and resentment.

Together the performers create believable characters and situations, packing energy and emotion into the theatre’s intimate Little space.  We never doubt that the likeable couple at the heart of the story are devoted to one another, and the play remains credible and authentic as the narrative is unwrapped and unfolds.

Old Fools is an informative and important new play from an inventive young writer unafraid of challenging perceptions. He finds heart-wrenching drama in the midst of the straightforward and ordinary. Brave and significant, it is a work that can change attitudes to an often misunderstood condition, as well as cementing Bernays’ place as a major and forceful talent.'

★★★ The Stage, Sam Marlowe - 'tender and affecting':

'Tristan Bernays’ short, bruising play tenderly tracks a relationship of enduring devotion back and forth through time, through the tests and triumphs of ordinary life and the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s.

Old Fools recalls other work on similar themes, notably Florian Zeller’s The Father and Nick Payne’s Elegy – and it’s much less substantial. But in Sharon Burrell’s sure-footed production, it’s emotionally piercing and beautifully acted.'

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Photographs: NatJames Photography

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