Tomorrow, the Vanishing Point production at the Tramway in Glasgow, is billed as “a striking meditation on growing old, dementia, needing care and needing to care.” It certainly depicts some aspects of all this with real power, but does it offer a real meditation of any substance?
“Tomorrow doesn’t owe the subject of dementia anything. It’s not trying to represent anything faithfully or to do anything worthy. Tomorrow is simply another journey for Vanishing Point…” according to Matthew Lenton, the highly-respected Director of the company. As with their previous work the process leading to the show is seen as important. Reading, improvising, researching, getting into it as a company. The primary aim is for the company to explore an area of fascination. The secondary aim is to create space for an audience to dream.
Masks and More
The performance starts with the on-stage crafting of realistic prosthetic masks to the sound of the Lark Ascending. This is lyrical, mysterious and beautiful. These masks will be used to capture age as an additional layer of identity, crafted professionally by others, covering the skin of our younger selves.
The first staged scenes involve the neat conceit of a younger man, late for his daughter’s birth, being forced to assume the identity of his older self. Firstly this takes the form of a physical wrestling match with himself as a faceless, pyjama-clad old man, bent-double and vulnerable in the snow. Then, more alarmingly, the mask is literally force-fitted by staff as the younger man is shockingly brought back into his current self as he enters care. This dynamic role reversal – the switch between carer and cared for – promises much. Other older people join him, assume their masks, and take their places as the stage is set as a care home interior.
The long sequence at the heart of the show is to all intents and purposes a literal recreation of a care environment, acutely observed and resonant. The characters go through the limited dances of daily institutional life, relieved only by shadowy memories, sounds of former lives and attempts to escape. The motivations and sheer ordinariness of the carers are explored as an achingly dull background for those being cared for.
Substance or Spectacle?
However the whole production remains very earth-bound for something looking to inspire dreams. The staging cannot disguise the banality of the metaphors, summed up ultimately when the young male lead removes his mask as the literal climax to the evening. Nothing much has in truth been explored in any depth in the previous hour or so. Children come and go. The sense of loss and historical letting-down is evoked.
Although the craft in the production is clear as things progress there is really not enough shape to the stimulation to constitute a thoughtful exploration with a purpose. It remains a highly-polished spectacle. The time passes pleasurably enough. The mind is left to wander. That seems to be the intent. The production is almost straining not to be worthy or serious to prove a point. There may
be real merit in freeing dementia from the need to be treated as sacrosanct. But that freedom has to deliver something else.
In the end, although extremely well-observed and beautifully crafted, “Tomorrow” can be accused of giving no more space to dream, and little more to mediate on, than a visit to a real care home.
Mark Butler, Director, Dementia Festival of Ideas
This review relates to the production of “Tomorrow” which ran at Tramway, Glasgow, from 4 – 11 October 2014. It is adapted from an article funded by the Dementia Services Development Trust.