The stubborn persistence of The Jeremy Kyle Show may be the embodiment of all that is broken in society, but it sure does pass the time. In The Lounge, it’s a staple, along with an endless supply of biscuits and occasional bouts of incontinence among the residents. The Lounge is where we park ourselves when the end is nigh. When we fall and can’t get back up again, when our bowels fail us, when our families don’t have time, when we’re old.
In their latest show, Inspector Sands examines the aging process by constructing a slightly surreal care home, where actors shift from carer to cared for, where residents disappear into holes in the walls, where Kafka-esque corridors lead to crushing realisations of mortality, rather than the kindly grandfather you came to visit. Despite being set in a fully realised world, it’s a bit of a collision, somewhere between a deeply researched social drama and an anarchic piece of absurdism.
For the first half of the play, a fish-out-of-water grandson, played by Dennis Herdman, comes to visit the care home and finds himself imprisoned in The Lounge. His grandfather has gone missing, his requests for answers are rebuffed, he is forced to feel the creeping, insidious boredom that comes with infinite biscuits and daytime telly until he cracks. When that finally happens, the world breaks apart.
The play’s second part is rebellious, but less impactful. Fire alarms are set off and mass escapes pepper the airwaves but the quiet, dismal truth of The Lounge is obscured. The whole thing is pinned on Lucinka Eisler’s performance as Marsha Hewitt, which is admittedly spectacular. A ninety seven year old woman intent on escape, Eisler’s hard edged determination and committed physical performance carefully balance pathos and humour, for the most part.
A word must be said about the physical dedication displayed in this production. Performed by a young, able bodied cast, the performers sink into old age and spring back out again like magic, with keenly crafted tics, aches and shakes, drooping postures and warbling voices. It’s a performative feat that for the most part I admire, with only the occasional wobble and drool veering into taking-the-piss territory. Yet in telling a story about aging bodies, it’s important to invite those bodies to the party. It’s telling that the poster for The Lounge is actually an image of an elderly woman, rather than a member of the much-younger cast.
The Lounge’s development is supported by a string of medical sources thanked in the programme, and its run accompanied by a number of discussions around the aging process, social care and accessibility. Though it’s a little overlong and flails to find an ending, it’s clear these artists have something bold to say and aren’t afraid to shout it from the rooftops.
The Lounge is on at the Soho Theatre until 20th May 2017. Click here for more details.