“How’d We End Up Here?”
Silver Lining, a sparkling new play by Sandi Toksvig now playing on the main stage of York Theatre Royal, is a tale of four – or maybe five – old, forgotten women in a care home, as flood waters spill over the nearby riverbank.
Silver Lining by English Touring Theatre and Rose Theatre Kingston
York Theatre Royal
Till Apr 1
The play is set in a first floor room.
Residents include quarrelling sisters: religious, bigoted June, acerbic chair-bound May; hilariously morbid Gloria; hypochondriac Maureen (with unexpected self-defence skills); and a mostly silent ‘St Michael’ given to sudden eruptions of random words.
Add in two youthful interlopers (including, briefly, Toksvig’s son Theo), and cue a flood.
The residents trade hilarious one-liners: “Graves End: Who knew?”, and “Just think: if I hadn’t given up smoking and drinking, I’d have missed all this!”
Old resentments and secrets spill out. Help, when it comes, arrives in the form of a brisk, careless young black woman called Hope (played brilliantly by Keziah Joseph), who can’t find proper work, and doesn’t care if they stay or go, as long as she can leave. But there is no bus; and the water is climbing the stairs.
Each character gets her moment to tell her story: if most are a little too similar (vacant or loutish husbands, absconding lovers), isn’t that true anyway, for so many women who came of age in the 60s and 70s?
Does Maureen’s old stage prop placard demanding ‘Votes for Women’ suggest their own voices are unheard, uncounted and uncared-about?
The young day worker sent to get them to a bus freely admits “I don’t like old people” (“Neither do I! Always complaining…” says Gloria), and she surely speaks for many others: slow, complaining, ill, and unable to fend for themselves, awash in memories of a past long gone – why should we be shocked that younger people don’t / can’t relate?
Hope will never be able to buy a house, get a job, or even move freely about Europe post-Brexit. Daughter Alison isn’t coming for June.
No one is left to rescue May, or Gloria; Maureen doesn’t want anyone to come for her. As for St Michael: who is she?
Because the residents are elders, the actors must be too: and here one realises the rarity of a play featuring mostly older women.
And what lengthy, stellar credits each have! Amanda Walker (St Michael) has appeared in films ranging from those of Merchant Ivory, to horror (28 Days Later) to blockbuster (Captain America: The First Avenger).
Sheila Reid (Gloria) spent her early theatre years in Laurence Olivier’s company at the Old Vic.
Maggie McCarthy (May) has appeared in Calendar Girls, The History Boys, and Coronation Street.
Joanna Munro (June) appears regularly on BBC radio; Rachel Davies (Maureen) has featured in films, on radio, on television.
And yet, female performers are considered ‘too old’ at only 35 to be a love interest for male actors in their 50s.
Pay gaps between male and female actors are beginning to be talked about, but not yet changed.
This play is a timely story about old ladies left behind when the flood waters rise, the characters played by older artists who, one hopes are not being left behind in their own stage work.
In many non-Western societies, elders and the very young are integrated: both are slower than young adults and have natural patience for the other. They care for and accompany each other.
But here elders can be shut away, and forgotten. Inconvenient young adults, too, are left behind in this austerity Britain of slashed safety nets and climate change; and unaffordable homes, unbought by unattainable jobs.
Silver Lining addresses all of these with hilarity and a dash of pathos, with memorable results. Please catch this marvellous show before it closes on Saturday 1 April. Highly recommended!