Love Beyond, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh ****
The Fantastic Life of Minnie Rubinski, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh *****
Poor Thing, The Studio, Edinburgh ****
With a rapidly ageing population, it’s perhaps not surprising that old age, and the years of growing confusion that often precede death, have recently become a major theme of European theatre; and it featured strongly in the final weekend of this year’s beautifully rich and rewarding Manipulate Festival in Edinburgh.
Scotland’s leading international theatre-makers Vanishing Point, and their director Matthew Lenton, have already explored the subject of dementia from many angles; and their new show Love Beyond (Act Of Remembrance), co-produced with Raw Material and co-created by superb theatre-maker Ramesh Meyyappan, reflects on the experience of an elderly man with dementia called Harry, who is profoundly deaf, and communicates only by sign language.
As his lovely care home nurse May soon realises, Harry is lost in memories of his beautiful wife Elise, and of a love story which seems to have ended in tragedy. And Lenton’s one-hour show combines tremendous depths of emotion with sheer technical brilliance, as Ramesh Meyappan as Harry, Elicia Daly as May, and Amy Kennedy as the memory of Elise, travel deep into Harry’s world of memory and longing; helped by Becky Minto’s astonishing set of mirrored screens which sometimes shiver with loss and uncertainty, superb lighting by Simon Wilkinson, and a searching and beautiful score by David Paul Jones, which leads us straight into the surges of thought and emotion in Harry’s mind, that cannot be expressed in words.
Leith-based visual theatre-makers Vision Mechanics often work on a grand outdoor scale; but in The Fantastic Life Of Minnie Rubinski, showing at the Fruitmarket Gallery during Manipulate, they too decided to take a lockdown journey into the mind of an elderly person now suffering from dementia, and to use miniature-scale filmed puppet imagery to create it.
What emerged is an installation piece that invites us to enter a darkened room and visit Minnie’s brain, pulsing in the centre of the space.
It is linked to screens around the room which feature exquisite short puppet-animation films of different aspects of her memory; and through them, we gradually learn more about an astonishing life which led Minnie from happy student years as a promising young pianist, into marriage, motherhood, domestic boredom, and out again into extraordinary careers as a gallery owner, journalist, and writer. Even in old age, we see Minnie in her care home dreaming of further spectacular humanitarian adventures.
It’s not until the end of the show, after we walk through an installation of the tiny worlds created in the making of the films, that we learn that the story is based on the real life of creative director Kim Bergsagel’s mother, still living with dementia at 88. And it’s perhaps the rich detail of that real-life origin that makes the Fantastic Life Of Minnie Rubinski such an outstanding piece of work; full of love for an astonishing woman, and profound recognition of all that this generation of elders have known and been, in their long lifetimes.
We know much less about the woman at the heart of Rotterdam-based Vox Muziektheater’s show Poor Thing, in which three eccentric undertakers reflect on the belongings of an anonymous woman who has died without family to mourn her or tell her story.
Yet through songs of death and longing by composers including Dowland and Gluck, and the objects themselves both beautiful and ridiculous, singer and co-creator Linde Schinkel, actor and co-creator Martine von Ditzhuysen, and musician Punto Bawono succeed in creating a funny and moving meditation on the sadness and and absurdity of ordinary death and the debris it leaves behind; in a light-touch show about the end of life that still has the deepest human compassion at its heart.Love Beyond at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, 17-18 February. Fantastic Life Of Minnie Rubinski and Poor Thing, runs completed.