I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of either the play ‘Visitors’ nor the Bush Theatre until today. Both were incredible and I can heartily recommend the play and the theatre.
First a little about the Bush Theatre. It’s a very short walk along Uxbridge Road from Shepherds Bush. Honestly it’s a fairly uninspiring building from the outside and looks like so many other public buildings in London. The inside however tells a completely different story.
In 2008 a shiny new library was opened in the nearby Westfield Centre leaving the future of this building in doubt. I suspect originally the Local Authority may have seen a value in this building and relocating the library freed up this big site for possible redevelopment. What the Local Authority perhaps hadn’t considered before the relocation of the library was the wishes of the philanthopist, John Passmore Edwards who had ‘gifted’ the building to the Council. Mr Edwards had, so the rumour goes, included a clause that said the building was to be used as a library for the public and if this use ceases then the ownership of the building is to be given to his old school. Ha, now what?
So as not to lose the building, the Council cleverly looked at reuse with the inclusion of a library. The newly redesigned inside now offers something for everyone and complies with Mr Edward’s restrictions. There’s a lending library with an assortment of novels, fiction, history and other books in a side room from the bar, separated by the original partitioned wood and glass doors and walls. There are also large bookshelves in the library area displaying, for sale, manuscripts of plays performed in the Theatre. Mr Edwards’ wishes are still being fulfilled in the newly designed and re-purposed space.
In addition to the library/reading room, which is furnished simply with mismatched chairs, tables and sofas, is a cafe/bar. A chic yet comfortable space.
We were pleasantly surprised to see a vast range of food and drink offerings at affordable prices. The alcoholic selections of beers and wines appear to be at normal bar prices. However the coffee/tea, soup, sandwiches and cakes are at non-London prices and wonderfully so. If I was a local, it would definitely become somewhere I could pop in for coffee, cake and a read regularly. Clearly even on a theatre day, there were locals enjoying the space and relative peace and quiet of the reading room. I’m revisiting in a few weeks with my Godmother for lunch. Very much looking forward to seeing what it’s like.
Behind the bar and down a few steps is the theatre. It’s ‘in the round’ and the seating is unallocated and on long wooden cushioned benches. Some people have commented about being uncomfortable for the whole performance. Not me, I have my own ‘padding’.
A superb theatre venue and looking at their programme of upcoming and previous plays, they clearly like to promote new plays and upcoming writers. Definitely worth a visit, you might just see a new theatrical gem.
Now to the play we saw, Visitors. Not my choice and initially, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure about it. My main concern was that the story was tackling a huge subject that sadly affects so many families around the world, dementia. It’s a subject that sometimes is trivialised or that ‘sufferers’ are treated unfairly or misunderstood. So very difficult to get it ‘right’.
The play is about a farming family where the mother is clearly becoming more and more forgetful. Her husband, beyond retirement age, still runs the farm himself. Tending the land and animals whilst looking out for his wife who clearly he adores. Their son, married and with his own children, has left home and now works in the City. Clearly his choice to pursue a career other than farming didn’t sit right with his father and you can feel the tension between father and son.
The final cast member is a young lady who had applied for a live-in companion role on the farm to keep an eye out for the mother.
The play is wholly about the dynamics between each of the parties. It’s every day as the mother’s health deteriorates and relationships become strained. The length that the father goes to to show her love and not to let her go into a home. The practical son who wants them to sell the farm, Mum to go into care and Dad not to have to worry about everything. Totally heartbreaking. The part of the carer-companion is delightful. Her smile and enthusiasm to show love and care to everyone. Her choosing to sing with the mother songs and see that she knew every word to but couldn’t remember how to ask for a cup of tea.
The play is beautifully crafted. It is incredibly sad and thought provoking but also peppered with comedic parts that left you laughing at the most poignant of moments. It tells the real story of dementia and Alzheimer’s. It’s incredibly touching and I don’t mind telling you that my eyes may have leaked once. What was totally incredible about the script and it’s delivery was that I came away ‘understanding’ the position of every person in the story. I didn’t feel sorry for any of them but could totally empathise with the decisions that had to be made or the upset at not being understood.
Incredible production and I really hope it makes it in to other theatres or even televised. It would help so many people in this situation or for whom it’s ahead of them.
Following the production the charity Dementia Friends run a short workshop in the library for anyone wishing to learn more.
Independent – It’s a play made with love.
The Guardian – Infinitely touching.Telegraph – It is an absolute beauty, by turns funny, tender and desperately sad.