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Updated: May 30, 2021

Barney Norris

Oldham Coliseum Company

Oldham Coliseum

18 April 2019 - 4 May 2019; 2hr 5min inc interval

Ben Porter (l), Robin Herford and Liz Crowther in Visitors at Oldham Coliseum
Ben Porter (l), Robin Herford and Liz Crowther in Visitors at Oldham Coliseum. All pics: Joel Chester Fildes

The Coliseum essayed dementia not too long ago in the fascinating, fragmented but ultimately award-winning story of The Father.

While that was a rather brittle play, full of fear and anguish, Barney Norris's 2014 first full-length play covers the same initial ground seen through a lifetime of love - both that of the two main characters, Arthur and Edie, and that of Norris for his grandparents, the inspiration for the play.

Norris suggests the play was written to counter the anger and distress from which many modern plays stem. So yes, this is ultimately a much more sentimental journey, but in being so it achieves a level of decent humanity that ultimately makes it, if not more satisfying, then certainly more palatable.

Arthur (Robin Herford, quietly bluff and worried what the future might hold) and Edie (Liz Crowther, better than I have ever seen her before, a lovely portrait of affection, homeliness and humour) have been together for decades, but both are worried that, Edie being on the early slopes of dementia, they might not be "together" for much longer.

Slightly estranged (by way of having a wife they don't get on with) son Stephen (Ben Porter) engages lost soul Kate (Kitty Douglas) as a home help for the pair until she works out what she wants to do with her life, and the three get along well, the young woman finding an obvious affection for the couple.

Complications arise when Stephen's wife throws him out, and his clumsy attempts to woo Kate are rejected after he upsets her new-found niche, but basically this is the story of warm humanity coming to terms with its own - and our - frailty.

That it is a play about dementia - that visitor disruptive of ordinary life - needn't concern potential audience members who might not be keen on being reminded of what might lie in store. The whole subject is handled without sugar-coating anything, but with the perhaps easy notion that love will conquer all fears.

What's wrong with it? Despite Chris Lawson's assured direction, the play is a couple of hours of chat: little happens and anyone keen on action will be disappointed.

On the other hand this is a stimulating dialogue on the nature of love and life for the vast majority of us; not the confrontation of obstacles and grasping ambition, but of steering a quiet course through troubles and coming out the other side (like Arthur and Edie, despite disappointments; unlike their son, who has a nice life but throws it away). It describes a life of familiarity and affection rather than argument (or indeed, excitement), of simply enjoying a life together.

It's a sweet, sad couple of hours that doesn't put the world to rights, but makes you feel a bit better about it.


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