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
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.