Old Fools at Southwark Playhouse
“Someday, when I’m awfully low…” croons Fred Astaire in his classic ballad The Way You Look Tonight – the song that provides the backbone for Old Fools, an examination of love, commitment, age and memory. It’s an apt song too, the jolly romanticism scoring Tom – an eternally charming, diamond-in-the-rough jazz pianist – and Viv – a witty academic with an adventurous spirit – as they embark on a blossoming relationship. And that first line? Well, it hints at something a little less jolly further down the road.
Tom (Mark Arends) and Viv (Frances Grey) work perfectly together. They have a connection that is almost palpable, and a flirtatious to-and-fro that crackles with energy. These moments from their burgeoning relationship are so perfectly formed, so full of awkwardness and excitement that they are all the more shocking when suddenly interspersed with other scenes from their lives: Tom being smacked as a young boy, or Viv distraught at not being able to produce a child of her own. The most effective juxtapositions, however, are when moments of pure tenderness and intimacy are jarringly twisted into visions of his future as an Alzheimer’s-ridden shell. Their first dance, hand in hand, is suddenly contorted into a scene in which future Viv is carefully lifting a shuddering, helpless Tom out of the bath. A beachside play-fight in the sun shifts into a grey and windswept bench on the promenade – with Viv’s giggles replaced with a constant chattering in an attempt to elicit any reaction from the blank-faced Tom.
This piece is heart-wrenching, there is no doubt about it. The speed and effectiveness with which Arends and Grey switch from pure, childlike joy to abject misery and frustration is truly upsetting, and their ability to convincingly play a vast age-range means that this temporal shuffling never feels awkward or forced. Old Fools may not push any boundaries, but over the course of 70 minutes it makes you fall in love – then breaks your heart.
Photo: NatJames Photography
Old Fools is at Southwark Playhouse from 14th March until 7th April 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.