The citizens of Silver Retirement Home are among the last to be picked up by flood relief teams in an area of London that’s increasingly resembling Atlantis. A gang of antagonistic, argumentative old ladies, the ensemble cast do well to create the thoroughly stifling atmosphere of a care home. The jokes about death come thick and fast- almost as immediately as the killing off of unseen ‘inmates’ in the next rooms along.
However, there’s a bitter aftertaste and you can’t help but feel the loss of a pacier script. Maybe it’s an occasional line-flub, maybe it’s the odd poorly-pitched pop culture reference to a generation not relevant to the cast or creative team. One Direction? It’s been a year since they broke up! (#OneYearWithoutTheBoys) When 40% of a boyband’s members now are fathers, it’s a reference which may be a little stale. Perhaps that’s the slant playwright Sandi Toksvig is aiming for with the “down with the kids” Gloria (held up valiantly by Sheila Reid’s firecracker performance), but too often the play’s efforts to relate to a millennial (or younger) audience feel tone-deaf and unnecessary.
It’s a similar case with young temp Hope, a character whose fluctuating ambivalence and insecurity is injected with blustery energy by Keziah Joseph. She secures her spot as the stand-out performer when she delivers a rant on the struggles of the underpaid, supposedly lazy younger generation. What bite the script lacks is made up for by Joseph’s fiercely angry delivery. Again, it’s perhaps the lack of exactitude in the perspective that weakens the intended presentation of the character – Toksvig’s vantage point comes with a lot of redemption for her elderly residents. Even the most offensive of the left-behind comes with her own vulnerability, despite the somewhat formulaic discovery of these insecurities through long monologues.
The best of these monologues by far is that of St Michael, played by Amanda Walker. Initially wheeled on in complete silence and a source of some hysterical moments, there’s that niggling sense that St Michael’s dementia is the punchline by proxy whenever her non sequiturs interrupt arguments and reconciliations. Walker then turns around our perception of her frail character in a heart-rending stream of consciousness. It’s Walker’s complete serenity throughout this speech which really hits hard, and elevates the entire performance to a level of sophistication and bravery alongside the easily-reached jokes.
Act two introduces far more of the plot’s emotional beats as well as an enthralling mission which really kicks the performance into gear. Compared to act one’s bumpy start, the play’s conclusion dispels the claustrophobic feel of the first few scenes just as the characters are ready to burst out of their own oppressive environment. There’s plenty of charm to be found in the ensemble cast’s chemistry and Michael Taylor’s intricate set. Yet despite this, Silver Lining lacks the hidden interest its own title promises.
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