Vanishing Point’s latest devised show opens with three figures creating what look to be masks, perhaps of their future selves. The manner is mechanical and passionless – these people know what they are doing. It then becomes clear that these masks are prosthetics, designed to turn young actors into far older versions of themselves.
A masterclass in physical theatre.
The play itself centres around George, a patient with dementia, who pushes the play’s narrative forward with his fear that he is late to visit Susan, his wife, and their newly-born child. However, the woman he believes to be Susan is in fact that very child, his daughter Claire. Susan is dead and George is left with a middle-aged daughter he believes to be his wife.
With the use of prosthetics, young actors play old characters throughout Tomorrow and the acting – particularly the physicality of the characters – is superb and moving throughout. There are relatively few words in the piece: rather, the actors rely on physicality to provide this transformation to old, which they do admirably.
The lighting is beautiful, with large arcs and beams of light used throughout. There is a section of the play which takes place in complete darkness; only the beams of torches mark out passing figures which is a lovely way of showing the fragmented, disorientating nature not only of living with dementia, but also of living with people who have dementia. Here, the lighting and sound design work perfectly with the themes of the play to elevate the viewer’s experience.
Where Tomorrow excels is in its blending together of the banalities of life with the life-changing nature of dementia. As we see patients confined to beds and chairs, we hear behind the scenes the nurses’ conversations about their evening plans, solutions to crossword questions and – particularly shocking to the newest nurse – which of the patients they would ‘shag if they had to’. The play not only paints a portrait of living with the disease but also of those who care for them. The nurses are depicted as entirely human throughout the piece.
Where it falters somewhat is in its structure. Some moments are mawkish or misplaced and there is little dramatic tension. This is not a play which is trying to say anything new or something that the audience does not already know. We are an ageing population and, as such, illnesses like dementia are becoming increasingly common.
Powerful, moving, and important, Tomorrow is a masterclass in physical theatre. The cast work impressively and cohesively as an ensemble, ensuring an unforgettable look at dementia.