Plaques and Tangles at the Royal Court
It is always a challenge to deal with a sensitive subject like Alzheimer’s in an artistic setting. The risk is that it can be over-dramatised or misrepresented, giving a warped image of the condition and thus failing in the aim of educating the audience. The latest theatrical work to deal with the subject, Plaques and Tangles, strives to offer as much information as possible on the condition. Playwright Nicola Wilson is careful in her approach, as she balances powerful drama with a solid layer of facts.
One week before getting married, Megan has a one-night stand and ends up cancelling her wedding. A few days earlier, she had discovered that she has a 50% chance of developing early onset Alzheimer’s. As her casual affair with her one-night stand (Jez) gradually develops into something deeper, the audience gets glimpses of an older couple with a teenage son and daughter, engaging in everyday family activities. These are projections into Megan and Jez’s future as parents. Their lives appear to be undisturbed by any conflicts at first, but almost imperceptibly, Megan’s behaviour begins to change: small oversights eventually escalate into total incoherence of actions and speech.
The principal dilemma that the play deals with is whether knowledge of the risk can be beneficial, and whether sharing this knowledge with one’s family is a matter of choice or duty. Megan opts for silence, and it has tragic consequences. Another, wider, theme is that of memory and the extent to which it defines identity. Without her memories, Megan seems to float in a sea of random words and facts, without any sense of self or awareness of others.
The narrative of the play is very imaginative, hopping back and forth in time and even resorting to apparitions of deceased characters. The set itself is unusual: the audience sits at either side of a narrow, catwalk-like space with a set of stairs on one end and a double bed on the other. This has an interesting effect, as the audience faces the actors but also other spectators, which intensifies the experience. The whole cast is strong and the two actresses playing Megan are particularly convincing as they depict the character’s journey from lucidity to disorientation.
The story is not only informative in regards to Alzheimer’s and the plight of sufferers, but it also makes the audience truly empathise with those who struggle in seeing the object of their affection change beyond recognition. Insightful and touching, Plaques and Tangles accomplishes what it sets out to do: inform as it moves the audience, and open up an avenue for discussion as it encourages reflection on the subject.
Photos: Bill Knight
Plaques & Tangles is on at the Royal Court Theatre from 14th October until 21st November 2015, for further information or to book visit here.