When Jane and Victoria buy a house on the coast to run as a B&B, they’re full of hope and excitement for the future; if they press their faces tight against one of the window frames and squint, they can even – just about – see the sea. Wouldn’t it be great if those bungalows across the road were gone, they muse. “Then we could see the sea from every room in the house!” Such a challenge to the gods of irony surely cannot go unanswered and it’s not long before they’ve got more than an unrestricted view: as the coastline recedes, gardens, houses and roads tumble into the waves or are demolished by the same council who refused to renew the sea defences, leaving Jane and Victoria to watch their world slide inexorably towards oblivion.
But RedCape Theatre’s exquisitely constructed two-hander is not just about coastal erosion, as starts to become apparent when Jane is unable to recall the word ‘tide’ when leading a walking group across the cliffs. As early-onset Alzheimer’s takes hold, slowly but inevitably, the monuments of memories that form the bedrock of Jane’s mind – form the very basis of her personality – gradually crumble away, abandoning her in some unknowable land, and leaving Victoria to share their disintegrating home with a stranger.
From the start, Tina Bicat’s eloquent set – all sun- and surf-bleached boards and gauzy fabric – conjures the breezy seaside aesthetic but also hints at the haunted atmosphere of depopulated coasts and families left bereft by dementia; the planks are bone-like fingers hanging on for dear life, the gauze reminiscent of shrouds, and Alan Bowyer’s film of heedless waves crashes against the performance space with relentless inevitability. As the erosion takes hold, both of the land and of Jane’s mind, the trappings of everyday life – teapots and cutlery, shoes and shirts – are pitched onto the ‘beach’ below; a line of washing flaps loosely like the sails of a wrecked boat; the summery light fades like the recognition in Jane’s eyes.
This production is a feast of small moments, of lovely, subtle gestures and echoed movements that build to create the myriad layers of meaning. Sand poured from a cup onto the table, Jane walking her fingers through the little pile, becomes a stroll down to a hidden cove; sleeping positions during restless nights reveal the growing chasm between them, the characters sliding into each day with increasing despair; the use of clothes to suggest guests at the B&B early in the piece is sweetly funny, but later they become all that’s left of the Jane with whom Victoria had fallen in love.
Both Cassie Friend and Catherine Dyson give faultless performances, the former conveying Jane’s fear and confusion with controlled restraint, gradually diminishing until she appears like a guest in her own life, and the latter revealing Victoria’s loneliness and frustration with heartbreaking poignancy. “They said we had 50 years!” she exclaims indignantly early on, leaning out of the window to watch the coast fall away. If only any of us could be so sure.