Mark Ludmon reviews the revival of Sean Mathias’s A Prayer for Wings at King’s Head Theatre, London
A Prayer for Wings
King’s Head Theatre, London
Around 6.5 million people in Britain are carers, looking after a partner or relative, often at the expense of their own mental and physical health, according to Carers UK. Despite greater support and awareness, it is clear that not much has improved since 1985 when Sean Mathias captured the bleakness of being a carer in his play, A Prayer for Wings. It has now been revived, with Mathias directing, sadly proving to be just as relevant as it was 34 years ago.
Still set in the mid-80s, the play charts the relationship between 20-year-old Rita who had to leave school before her CSEs to care for her mother who is house-bound with multiple sclerosis. With a mix of drama and monologue, it captures the complex relationship between the two women, shifting between love and resentment, but always with love at its core.
Lee Newby’s set and costumes transport us to Swansea in the 1980s, creating the shabby interior of the women’s home in a former church – a heavy metaphor for a story in which a young woman prays to be saved by the love of an angelic man. The more secular reality is that the only men in her life are the teenagers down the recreation ground who pay her for sexual favours. Despite this blighted existence, Rita somehow manages to keep on wishing and hoping, dreaming of a better life.
Remaining upbeat despite her inner despair, Rita is played with poignancy and charm by Alis Wyn Davies. She is well-matched by Llinos Daniel as her mother who also longs for better times before illness took over her identity. With Luke Rhodri as a succession of young men, the production benefits from strong performances and sharp direction but the drama is relentless in portraying the repetitive monotony and austere hopelessness of being a carer and stuck in a co-dependent relationship. Mathias has created a vivid character in Rita but I was left wanting more than this short play can offer.
Running to 23 November 2019 at King’s Head