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New Care Home Comedy at the Pleasance Theatre

Kicking off a run of Edinburgh previews shows with the likes of Joe Lycett and Max and Ivan, the stagespace over at the Pleasance Theatre is currently hosting a new writing comedy by playwright Seiriol Davies. Moon River tells the story of 87-year old Glad who finds herself in a Residential Home in Chingford convinced she’s been banged up with a bunch of loonies.

Tumbling from sharp sitcom to frightening dreamscape and back, via a tea dance at the end of time, the play is described as a fearless examination of old age in contemporary Britain. It was developed at the Soho Theatre and Trafalgar Studios and is directed by Caroline Horton (winner of the 2010 The Stage award – Best Solo Performer for You’re Not Like The Other Girls Chrissy) and with a prolific cast that includes Julia Voce (London Bubble Theatre Company, Underbling and Vow). We met up with performer and deviser, Seiriol on a sunny roof in Soho to ask him about his first feature-length play.

Seiriol, welcome to our sunny roof.
Thank you, I’ve brought along my airconditioner because it is too hot (there is very loud unit next to us) and I am sweating.

It’s quite an obnoxious air conditioner isn’t it?
It is, it’s very shiny

It is in fact taking over the whole of this interview
It thinks it’s so important.

Moon River opened on Tuesday. How is it all going so far?
Really well. The cast are all wonderful and it’s quite a technical show so now we’ve got a couple of performances under our belt it’s getting tighter and tighter and they’re relaxing more into it and being able to fully inhabit their characters.

 When you say technical is it a very physical piece?
It’s lots of lighting changes, a smoke machine….small explosions. A flying moon, which may or may not be cut because it has a tendency to bash into the door, which takes away from the reality of the moon.

 It’s not in the sky as much as it should be?
No, because it’s seen through a French window and it’s kind of a quiet, sensitive moment and if the moon slowly, sheepishly creeps into view having got in late it doesn’t really work.

Tell us a bit more about the story. What is Moon River?
Moon River is the famous song…how did that come about? We started out – me and Jules, who plays the central character Glad – at physical theatre school where we had to do a project to find a world within contemporary life, a subgroup of people, and just be in it. We chose the social lives of the over 75’s – 80’s, which meant we got to go to tea dances and bingo halls and choir practices.

What did you discover about life for the elderly?
Well what we experienced was just the most vibrant incredible people. Walking into a tea dance – we went to a tea dance in Brent town hall – was extraordinary because it’s very well attended and people dress up. You walk into the gents and it’s just a long line of quite elderly men Brylcreeming their hair. It’s a kind of sexual atmosphere, like a school dance. The quote I put on the front of the script and poster was something somebody said to us there which was, “yeah we are widows, but that just means we’re single”. It’s a potent atmosphere there. There’s one dance they do which is called the bus stop where they put an actual bus stop in the corner of the hall and because there are so many more women than men the women queue up and the men arrive and pick up a lady, take her once around the floor and then drop her off and pick up another one. They love it.

Do sometimes two come at once and then nothing for ages?
Yes and Boris has just invented one where you can hop on the back….we were just so blown away by the ways in which people can have –  in every situation – this life force that comes out of them. There was one woman that we met who didn’t speak she just made fart noises and belches with her mouth, but there was just this urge to communicate coming through. And another guy who we spoke to who just had the most luminous inner life that was connected to this world around him. He’d say things like “I don’t watch television because sometimes when I’m watching it I’ll look out into the garden and see a little bird and when I look back to the television I’ve put the little bird inside the television. As a writer you hear that and think it’s incredible. He’s not being kooky, he’s not telling you it as though ‘wow, these drugs are strong’. It’s just like, ‘I need to tell you this. I need to tell you that once I flew to Newfoundland and there was a polar bear there so I hugged him and he was really warm and felt like feathers.’ Then he’d drift off and say I don’t know what I’m talking about anymore and then chuckle to himself. He presumably is at a certain stage of dementia.

Did he seem happy?
Very happy. You get someone else who for every moment or every time a memory disappeared or he or she has difficulty connecting with it is a source of horror and pain. You get these people who are fighting, fighting against what is happening to them.

Presumably this isn’t something you want to laugh at.
What I wanted to reflect in the script and do as a production was to just explore some of the ways in which people deal with being old. It’s set in a fictional residential home and the central character is 87 and finds herself in this home and doesn’t really understand why because everyone else is clearly nuts and she’s clearly fine. You’ve got the dipso Danish drama queen wandering around insisting on sherry all the time; you’ve got the woman in the corner who just makes fart noises and you’ve got the snooty middle class woman who comes around as a day visitor because the old folks need her but she’s older than most of them.

Cast member, Julia Voce rehearsing as 87-year old Glad. 

So are all the characters based on people you met?
They’re inspired in various ways by people we met as well as people we’ve known in our lives that we wanted to put into the story. And the story is, I guess, about people trying to live and have fun even when the world is kind of slipping away.

Most programmes about care homes tend to be terribly depressing. Was that desperation something you wanted to explore?
The way I tried to think myself into it was that when you’re in a Home, it becomes your living room but it’s also that lady’s living room and that guy’s living room and you’ve never met him before; what’s he doing in your living room? When your entire world is compressed to this one building, this one room, everything is the entire world. It is important who gets the coffee first, whether the woman is calling the bingo properly. What we tried to play with was exploding those tiny nothingy moments into the importance of what they are when you don’t have much time left. Do you live and let be each moment or do you live. I think the play ends up on quite a hopefully note.

Moon River runs until the 2nd June at the Pleasance Theatre, London, 7.45pm. Tickets

Seiriol Davies will be performing in Mess, written and directed by Caroline Horton at the Edinburgh Festival this August.

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