The framing of Paradise Lodge is odd at first. It begins with two struggling artists Eric (Steve Cooper) and Kylie (Sophie Osborne) performing for a crowd of pensioners a care home (Paradise Lodge). The actors go on to take the roles of the residents of the lodge and their friends and family, and the show becomes a surprisingly bold look at dementia.
Paradise Lodge is a funny, poignant and worthwhile delivery of an old message.
The originality of Paradise Lodge is that it is sentimental but in a very backhanded way. With one hand it plays the nineteen-forties' songs pensioners generally love and on the other mocks how distant they are from the outside world. It emphasises the humanity of its characters it doesn’t shy away from hard truths about their condition.
The inclusion of war songs in Paradise Lodge is another strength (firstly because they’re sung and played very well by the cast, and enjoyable in themselves). They are emotional because they play into the theme of dementia; music is often the last thing an old relative forgets. They are also emotional because these were songs that the elder generation sang for their relatives, relatives who were absent, or leaving, who there wasn’t much hope of seeing again. This is how the play pulls off some of its more hard-hitting scenes.
This lends some structure to what feels like several interlocking arcs. It does have a rhythm to it, and Cooper as a writer is very good at managing the pacing and delivering comic interruptions, but although we get satisfying looks at a few of the characters with others it feels as though we’re stirring the surface where there’s more to be uncovered.
As actors, Cooper and Osborne successfully bring a whole ensemble to life. The changes are slick and they shine in comic roles (Cooper as Ronnie was particularly memorable). Some of the inevitable tear-jerking moments were also well done, notably when Violet dances to I’ll Be Seeing You, but others didn’t quite strike the right note. Eric’s relationship with his mother could have been more fleshed out for me.
Although the show doesn’t really suffer on any account, the comedy and the renditions of the forties' songs (and audience participation in them) both rely on the goodwill of the audience. This I felt was reflected in some of the other reviews.
Paradise Lodge’s message isn’t new, but it conveys it well; the audience were shaking hands with the cast as they left. It is about the similarities between us and an older generation whose minds are waning. Victims of dementia won’t forget love and won’t forget its absence.