JOYCE MCMILLAN on IN MY FATHER’S WORDS at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 23.6.14.
4 stars ****
PLAYS ABOUT DEMENTIA are everywhere, in the ageing world of the 21st century; it is the current subject of choice for family drama, and although the increasing awareness of the disease is welcome, the plays themselves are often both repetitive and depressing.
That’s not the case, though, with Justin Young’s rich and thoughtful new play, a co-production between Dundee Rep and the Tron. Set in the 1990’s in the lakeside Toronto home of an old man known as Don Bennett, the play opens as Don’s estranged son Lewis begins to recognise that his father can no longer cope on his own; but Young makes the wise decision to focus not on Don’s worsening dementia, but on those who must live on, and their need to understand the past, in order to live fully in the present. Here, the catalyst is a bustling care worker called Flora, who by chance begins to uncover Don’s Gaelic-speaking past and identity; and in a gentle race against time, sets out to repair some vital connections between this damaged father and son.
If this narrative curve is slightly sentimental, though, it’s brought to life with great force in Philip Howard’s memorable production, which features three eloquent performances from Angus Peter Campbell, Muireann Kelly, and Lewis Howden. And there’s something powerful and fascinating, too, about the way this play uses screens and live surtitles to lead us into the great political and emotional gulf between languages; and into the place between English-speaking and Gaelic worlds where Don has lost a vital part of himself, and briefly manages to reconnect with it, before the end.