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(TW: Themes of child loss)
Angela is an autobiographical radio play by Mark Ravenhill that tells the life and story of his mother. Angela, named Rita at birth, battled with dementia in her late life and depression and motherhood in her early life.
It’s fascinating where the illness of dementia can take the mind: the script moves through Angela’s memories in a similar way. We come across scenes as though lost in a fog in an attempt to muddle through, occasionally bumping into significant or random moments of life. Through this structure, we get an idea of what plays on Angela’s mind, and what could be said to haunt her, but we also get a deep sense of her character.
One of the most notable and important themes within this piece is that of miscarriage. Angela is haunted by the guilt and pain she feels regarding the loss of her daughter. Secretly in her mind, she lives a life that never was with her child, and takes the blame for being “made wrong”. Ravenhill uses The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck as a powerful metaphor for his mother’s feelings; a duck is said to be a bad sitter of eggs and after being distracted and led astray by a fox, Jemima’s eggs are eaten by hounds. This emphasises Angela’s maternal nature, her feeling of inadequacy and, often, her childish simplicity.
The most emotional scene in the play, for me, was when Angela cares for a fellow dementia sufferer in hospital, who keeps crying for her mother. Recalling her acting skills and playing on her natural instincts, Angela has a daughter at last and both women are soothed.
Now I recall that the Royal Lyceum Theatre and Pitlochry Festival Theatre received a great amount of backlash regarding the casting announcements for their Sounds Stage 2021 Season. I think it is important to note the lack of Scottish actors in work from Scottish theatres, and it certainly sparked a conversation into Scottish casting in a more general sense. That being said, it is clear from this audio piece, that Ravenhill’s play required English voices to bring the characters of his life into reality.
Young Angela, played by Matti Houghton, is strong but hesitant – she seems to hold back her true thoughts and desires at every moment. This is strikingly juxtaposed with Older Angela, played by Pam Ferris, who is unable to filter and control her language or emotions due to her illness. We get such a powerful awareness of what it must be like living with dementia when you feel like the world is against you.
Angela feels like a sad tale, but it’s also a beautiful homage to a strong survivor of a woman.