Review – Really Old, Like Forty Five, National Theatre

Really Old
Really Old, Like Forty Five is a play about ageing and our society’s response to it. It’s also about youth. And family relationships. And ruthless corporate capitalism. And robots.

I’m all for wide ranging themes in theatre.  Angels in America is the best kind of example of a sweeping, bold, brave and expansive examination of a society.  Really Old is the best kind of example of a complete thematic mess.  It can’t decide whether it wants to be Iris, The Power of YesAugust: Osage County or D.A.R.Y.L. It manages to be none of these, but instead manages to be bland, confused (my theatre companion’s theory was that watching it was supposed to actually replicate what it’s like to get Alzheimers) and utterly uninsightful.

It’s difficult to overstate what a clunking, pointless and frustrating production this is.  The dialogue zips along with all the pace and zing of an electric mobility scooter and the performances are, without a single exception, just terribly, terribly weak.

A typical extract from the script, indicative of the wit with which this production conducts itself:

Three women, two old one young, enter and look at a large turtle.  The premise of the following scene is that the turtle is alive but no efforts should be made to make the turtle appear in the least lifelike.  If possible, it should be highly varnished and incredibly, incredibly unrealistic.

A note on the performances: at no time should the actors engage with each other.  If possible, all should face blankly towards the audience and disclaim boomingly into the auditorium in – if possible – monotone voices.

Young Woman: I wonder what it’s like to be an old turtle.

Old Woman 1: I’ll tel you what it’s like to be an old turtle

Pause for laughter.

Or another example of the kind of comedy corkers you can expect:

Old Woman 1: What would you think if it was a rabbit?

Young Woman: What?

Old Woman 1: A rabbit.

Young Woman: Do you mean robot?

Old Woman 1: Yes, I mean robot.

Old Woman 2: Well you said rabbit.

Pause for laughter.

That’s not to say there aren’t any good bits. At one point, shortly before the interval, one of the characters stares at the audience and says “Why is my mum in that computer game?”  Which is a curious question to ask because, frankly, it really wasn’t at all clear why, on earth, the playwright had decided to put her mum in a computer game. And really, if anyone’s going to know, it’s probably one of the characters in this complete shambles of a play rather than any of the poor confused people watching it.

We were sincerely hoping that, post interval and glass of wine, things might pick up as the robots (yes, there are robots – it’s all to do with the dehumanised nature of our institutionalised approach to healthcare and our ageing population, you see) threw off their shackles and waged war against their human overlords.  My prediction – that the old women would be forced to barricade themselves in their homes in order to defeat a time-travelling assassin from the future hell bent on destroying the children who would one-day become the leaders of the resistance – sadly didn’t come true; but my companion’s prediction – that someone’s face would fall off – remarkably turned out to be the way in which the playwright decided to pursue the drama.

In the end, with a script as weak as this, Really Old was never going to be anything except Really Poor, but the National didn’t help themselves with this lifeless, flat and poorly acted production.