Rich as an old easy chair often upholstered, the world of ageing Edie and Arthur contains and combusts with intimate, sensitively-portrayed drama. Linda Bassett and Robin Soans have developed a relaxed, unaffected rhythm of conversation that peaks often in sharp/confused analysis (‘People used to aspire to things, does that still happen?’), and in humour that builds as the relationships unfold and memories accrue within their front room.
Barney Norris’s assured first full length play follows Edie’s progression as her dementia worsens, and the prospect of going into a care home and leaving the house she and Arthur have shared for a lifetime behind her becomes increasingly real. The cast balance the inevitability of this aspect of the narrative’s trajectory against a surprising, imaginative, caring handling of the characters.
Visitors has an earthy, laval feel to it, not least because of the perfectly-captured rural interior and the old farmer’s easily-gentlemanly corduroy and cardigans. Looks of love that have been (home-)brewing for decades are peppered with a flotsam of references to modern change. Edie and Arthur can barely contain themselves when they meet a girl with blue
hair dye. And Edie grapples with Yotam Ottolenghi, holding at arms’ length the big soft book that unites thrill-seeking vegetarians everywhere.
Robin Soans is splendid as the practical, devoted Arthur, and he and Simon Muller manage to create what must be one of the most long and unnervingly awkward one-sided jokes onstage today. Norris’s dialogue rises unshowily, as gently as a west country hill, and before you know it everything is laid out majestically beneath you.
The whole cast have settled in to their performances after a long successful run at the Arcola, and in the current show at the Bush they are entirely believable. As the young woman, Kate, who comes to give Arthur and Edie some live-in home help, Eleanor Wyld initially perfectly captures both genuine kindness and a straining eagerness to be liked – all those things you feel when it’s hard to think of what to say so sit smiling manically and pretending to drink the last drops from your teacup even when there’s no tea in there.
One of the most nuanced performances in Visitors turns out to be Muller’s portrayal of Edie and Arthur’s son. Muller gets behind this insurance salesman’s fussy, blunderingly selfish front to see his hurts, his yearnings – a showcase of just one of the very good things theatre can do for us by way of massaging our empathetic muscles. But this is not a patronisingly
moralising piece, its knottiness is not neatly cut or tied, but left frayed,