Salt, Root and Roe
Theatr Clwyd Cymru
Sherman Cymru, Theatre 2
8th May 2013
The run down house of elderly twin sisters Anest and Iola seems to rise up out of the sea and if the stories are to be believed they themselves were found in a lobster pot by their father who was half merman!
This feeling of Welsh fairytale runs deep through Tim Price’s beautifully written play and it gives the sense that the twins are somewhat ethereal and otherworldly. Indeed we soon find out that they do not have long left in this world, having decided to take their own lives to release themselves from the torture of Iola’s ever-worsening dementia.
Early moments did (for me) feel somewhat melodramatic but soon a beautifully directed rhythm of highs and lows really captured the sense of Iola’s good days and bad days. Sara Harris-Davies sensitively and convincingly played Iola, skilfully navigating both the tender and the violent aspects of the septuagenarian’s illness. Combined with the tender love pouring out of Betsan Llwyd’s Anest the pair were genuinely heartbreaking and certainly had the audience in tears on more than one occasion.
One of the only things keeping the pair alive is their tie to Anest’s daughter Menna (Catrin Aaron) who rushes to their Pembrokeshire home as soon as she receives a letter from Iola telling her niece that she plans to kill herself. Tragic Menna already has a lot to deal with; she seems to suffer with crippling obsessive compulsive disorder centred on a fear of germs. Her desperation to rekindle her Welsh origins and reignite the older women’s passion for life whilst dealing with her own demons was moving and made an initially cold woman human and relatable.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom; whenever caring local policeman and family friend Gareth (Brendan Charleson) entered he seemed to bring a ball of positive energy with him despite having his own problems at home. His chemistry with Menna was wonderful to watch as the two slowly grew more comfortable in each other’s company.
In what is already a charmingly slow-burning play unnecessarily slow furniture changes sucked any pace from proceedings. Although this suited the gentle nature of the dialogue it was frustrating when the stage was left empty with only off-stage murmurings to keep you engaged.
Having said that, the words and the acting were so expertly crafted that the production did not once lose the audience’s attention. It was refreshing to see a contemporary play that dealt head-on with one of the most controversial topics of healthcare today. Not only did it provide a heartbreakingly honest portrayal of old age but it also had an obvious and well reasoned pro-euthanasia stance without being pushy or overtly political. Here were two old women who could be any Welsh Mamgu trying their best to come to terms with human frailty.
Photo Catherine Ashmore.