…or, as the show’s performer and writer Michelle Roche prefers to say, with eight mad old people. This statement is a reflection of the problem of perspective within this show; the phrasing is a light-hearted look at Roche’s world through her eyes as a child, but we’re watching the show as adults. IGUIAOPH has the potential to develop a better understanding of dementia, and the show attempts to make the audience see things in Roche’s uniquely sympathetic light. However, therein lies the problem: the focus is upon her and not dementia and people who suffer from it.
This shouldn’t be a problem in terms of characterisation, as it means that our protagonist is fully rounded. However, the way in which Roche delivers her monologue makes the entire show seem too personal to identify with any of the other characters she projects. Alongside devices such as breaking the fourth wall and multi-roling, IGUIAOPH draws influences from verbatim theatre, using recordings detailing encounters in an old people’s home. As a result I left with a rounded picture of her but not of dementia, and I struggled to form any real sort of connection with the piece.
It all seems to try a little too hard to impress outside of the basic script. IGUIAOPH is a part of a festival at The Vaults, a series of underground tunnels beneath Waterloo, so the performance studio doesn’t offer much potential in terms of production. Roche has been successfully inventive with her staging with the help of her director, Edward Rapley: china cups and saucers dangle from the ceiling, giving the impression of being on tables belonging to the different residents. Furthermore, a leaky mug intelligently illustrates a story about one of the residents peeing on the carpet, and the spinning crockery is a deft image that reflects the vicious circle of forgetfulness for somebody suffering from dementia. But beyond the setting, there is a bit of a forced relationship with the aesthetics, which seems more pretentious than genuinely contributing something meaningful to the show: for example, entangling herself in a chair multiple times. It’s fiddly and unnecessary.
Roche is founder of The Wonder Club, whose work I’ve previously admired at The Vaults for their brilliant aesthetic eye and the place this gives to the audience’s imagination and independence of thought within the show. So I must confess myself disappointed by Roche’s first solo venture, in which she lacks the ability to immerse herself into the show without a larger cast and more concentrated story.
The script itself has moments of brilliance, although just as many monotonous moments. Similarly to the spinning motif used as a reflection of the symptoms of dementia, there is a lot of repetition within the dialogue used to great effect. There is a particular section of dialogue in which different speeches relating different stories are jumbled together, in a way which creates an entirely new story beyond the ones being told. Roche certainly stays true to her theme of seeing things through different eyes in this text. Elsewhere however, the repetition of long chunks of dialogue drags and lengthy descriptions of the living room don’t lead anywhere, detracting from the driving force of the narrative.
The direct address is so colloquial at times that it’s difficult to know whether Roche’s honesty about an old people’s home being the state between sanity and death is refreshing or morbid. IGUIAOPH leaves you feeling more confused than anything. Altogether, this attempt at original staging feels a bit dated, and rather like the story being told it belongs in a different space and time.
I Grew Up In An Old People’s Home played at The Vaults until 1 February. For more information and tickets, see the Vault Festival website.