This is a two-hander written and performed by Peter Henderson. With impeccable direction from Vincent Adams, the show packs in a wide range of things to great depth and poignancy within the space of one hour.
Both the writing and acting in this show are extremely skilful. It’s a very successful, heartwarming play.
The flow of the show is made extremely smooth by Henderson’s acting. It is incredible how he can simply put on a bathrobe, thick glasses, mutter “dear dear dear dear dear…” and instantly transform so convincingly from a fifty-two-year-old into a senior in his eighties.
The play unfolds through alternating stories told by the two characters. The father is an ex-RAF man who served in the Second World War as a fighter pilot. He is very much of his generation: he has a stiff upper lip, is averse to any kind of “soppishness” or physical contact, even with his own family. Very old and physically feeble, he spends his days pottering around the house and visiting his girlfriend Betty. We learn about his past experiences in the RAF and his relationship with his wife and son while he prepares some testimonies to send in to the war memorial committee.
We find out about the father’s infidelity to his wife, her gradual descent into schizophrenia, and how father and son handle this mental illness. The father’s poor handling of the situation leads to the son’s life going off the rails, while the son must struggle with feelings of guilt, wondering if he could have helped his mother better. The difficulties with his mother’s illness spill into all aspects of the son’s life and there is a very powerful scene where the mother, quite late in the stages of her illness, bursts out at her son in a jealous rage because of his girlfriend.
The structure of the storytelling is very elegant. The pacing is exactly on target; each character’s scenes go precisely to the point they need to before switching to the other character. The characterisations of the father and son are very subtle, complex, and humanising, without blame being crudely placed on either of them. The play provides many insights into the effects of mental illness, and its treatment of schizophrenia is very measured, which becomes a rich ground for exploring the psychologies of the two primary characters.
The play is at the same time extremely successful with its comic moments; the clashes between son and father and the idiosyncratic habits of the father often lead to bursts of laughter from the audience. Both the writing and acting in this show are extremely skilful. It’s a very successful, heartwarming play.