A Month of Sundays, Priory Theatre, Kenilworth, to Feb 16.
This bitter-sweet comedy subtitled Laughing in The Face of Oblivion, deals with uncomfortable truths which face an ageing population.
Directed by Dawn Gazey-Lewis, this production creates a completely believable care home with a sense of a close-knit community where the day is punctuated by meals the residents don’t want, and endless trips to the bathroom.
At the centre of the story is Cooper, a demanding role well played by Stuart Lawson. Cooper, determined to maintain his independence, forms close bonds with fellow resident Aylott and the staff in the home, but struggles to relate to his daughter Julia, played by Linda Smith-Blain, in her first role at the Priory, and son-in-law Peter (Ray Arber), who drive from Milton Keynes for a visit on the first Sunday of the month.
It has to be said that this is not a cheerful play and anyone looking for a dose of escapism will be disappointed. Written by Bob Larbey who wrote TV's A Fine Romance and As Time Goes By, the play reflects the indignities of old age and the ever-present threat of Alzheimer’s. But the mood is lightened by black humour, tart comments and an admirable determination to keep on keeping on.
Julia struggles to meet the opposing demands of father and son, but the visits get shorter, conversations more trite, and uncomfortable silences get longer.
But Cooper enjoys the banter with Mrs Baker, the cleaner, played by Ruth Jones, who seems to take no nonsense from him and gives as good as she gets. There is a lovely scene where they dance, which shows the sweetness to be found even in ordinary moments.
Then there is his affectionate relationship with Nurse Wilson played by Gina Towie who treats him as a surrogate parent, making him the first to know of her impending marriage. This is a relationship which could only happen in this strange and unnatural environment and brings great pleasure to them both as he flirts with her in a very unPC fashion and she steals his afternoon tea.
At the centre of the play is the camaraderie of Cooper and Aylott (an excellent first performance at the Priory by David Draper). They call themselves the Escape Committee and plan to flee to Switzerland but as time goes on it is clear that there is only one way out. They keep the sadness at bay with whisky and chess.
This is Dawn Gazey-Lewis’s debut as a director at the Priory and she conjures sharp performances from the cast of six whose sense of timing wins plenty of laughs, despite the dark subject matter.
Cooper is not a Lear, raging against the dying of the light. He's more querulous than that but as he says: "My grumbles are designed to show what a plucky old man I really am" - and indeed he is.
For tickets go to: www.priorytheatre.co.uk or call 0333 666 3366.