Homework at The London Theatre
Autobiographically tinged, Homework by Howard Colyer is a personal, thought-provoking and moving play about dementia. It opened at The London Theatre this week and the hour-long production takes the audience on a journey deep into the lives of a victim of the disease and her son. It was a journey we would not forget.
A small and simple set, divided into two sections by the careful use of interior design, allowed the audience to simultaneously watch both Jean Apps’s character “Mother” and her son, Jonathan Benda’s “Vincent”. The set gave a real sense of place; though the actors were physically close, their stage territories did not cross over, and each was anchored to their side: Mother was stuck in her room in a nursing home, Vincent in his study at home in Shooters Hill. The design of the set created the feeling of entrapment; they were both stuck in their homes, but they were also stuck, caught and trapped within their lives.
The script was compiled of 30 phone calls from mother to son. Colyer’s decision to use this format was extremely clever; through overlooking a series of private and personal calls, the audience was brought straight into the heart of the action. There was no dressing, no artistic license; we were taken into the ‘every day’ and it felt real.
Apps’s portrayal of Mother was superb. Her voice and facial expressions perfectly captured the torrent of emotions a victim of dementia can experience in a short space of time. Confusion, hope, sadness, anger, amusement, frustration and snippets of nostalgia superseded each other fleetingly in a battle of emotional warfare, which was both riveting and distressing to watch.
Benda too delivered a sturdy performance as introverted son Vincent, who acts as a caretaker of his mother’s memories. Benda’s mix of clenched fists, furrowed brow and exhaustive sighs emphasised the gruelling effect that dementia has on its secondary victims. Indeed, the play does debate degrees of sufferance. Though it is Mother who suffers first-hand from dementia, Vincent suffers too and he can remember, so who really suffers most?
From the beginning, the audience’s empathy rests with Mother, but as the performance progresses you become torn. This is where Colyer succeeds; watching this play, his audience undergoes a kaleidoscope of emotions. You travel with both Mother and Vincent, empathising with one, then the other, and then both. Then you leave and realise that this has just been one hour. One hour that was representative of one day; imagine this as your life.
Homework is a wonderful piece of investigative theatre that pulls you deep into the destructive world of dementia. Emphasising the importance of family, a trip to watch Colyer’s brainchild is an absolute must.
Homework is at the London Theatre until 1st December 2012. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.