Theatre review: As Ye Sow, Pleasance Dome (Venue 23), Edinburgh

The excellent Jeffrey Mayhew as suffering Clifford
The excellent Jeffrey Mayhew as suffering Clifford
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IT’S not often that a theatre play can make you scream, least of all one that starts off like the kind of amiable father-and-daughter relationship drama you might catch on a weekday afternoon on Radio 4.

As Ye Sow

Pleasance Dome

(Venue 23)

Star rating; * * * *

Written by Stewart Pringle, it is both a heart-wrenching exploration of old age, dementia and a care system that only cares when it’s being paid to do so, and a horror play with the kind of slow-build menace that leaves you quivering in your seat – a bit like its main character, Clifford, a resident of a tatty retirement home where nothing works properly and sinister demons lurk in the shadows.

Jeffrey Mayhew and Scarlet Sweeney give excellent performances as Clifford, an 
ex-farmer with a temper, and his well-spoken, well-presented and well-considered daughter, Susan.

Pringle’s dialogue is rich and authentic and filled with sharp social commentary that contrasts Susan’s desire to get her child into a good school with the relative squalor her father is now living in in the care home. Both characters are flawed yet compassionately portrayed in a way that feels very real – and offers no easy answers.

When Robert, a bumbling “electrician” with no training, comes to fix the TV, Clifford’s reality becomes a nightmare as the past comes to haunt him through his hallucinations.

John Garfield Roberts, who plays the wire-wielding buffoon, flits from jovial to terrifying with alarming ease, as the play makes us appreciate Clifford’s condition by forcing us to experience it directly.

It’s a sharp trick that sets this apart from the numerous other dramas tackling the subject matter from a more objective position – and is a pertinent reminder of what we and our loved ones could face if we don’t do something about it.

As Stephanie Walls’s cheerfully loud and patronising care worker force-feeds Clifford a grey-looking gloop, it’s horrific in a different but equally powerful way.

It’s a shame that the performance is so short, as it could be easily developed into something longer, but as a piece of leap-out-of-your-chair scary theatre with rare heart and thematic clout, it’s a powerful cry from the dark.

• Until 27 August. Today noon.