Paul T Davies reviews Mark Ravenhill’s autobiographical play Angela presented as part of Sound Stage a new online audio digital theatre platform.
Angela is the first play in the opening season of Sound Stage, a new online audio digital theatre platform presented by Pitlochry Festival Theatre, the Royal Lyceum Theatre and Naked Productions, and the first autobiographical play by Mark Ravenhill. At the age of 84, suffering from dementia, Ravenhill’s mother, Angela, looks back over her life, struggling with her memories as she reflects on her challenges of becoming a mother, her miscarried daughter, and framing the play is Mark’s life long love of ballet, and his challenges of learning ballet in his fifties. It is written with an open heart, beautiful and poignant, taking us into Angela’s confused mind, shot through with startling clarity.
Central to her recollections is Mark’s childhood love of the ballet film of Beatrix Potter’s Tales, particularly Jemima Puddleduck, a memory that Mark had buried that came forward when his mother passed away and he began writing the play. (He was somewhat demanding in wanting to recreate the Jemma dance, never satisfied with her creations, “He always wanted more!”) His father, Ted, reads him stories and does the bath-time rituals, love really shines through every line of this play. A superlative cast creates strong imagery as you listen to the play, Mark in his Jemima costume and his Dad filming him, her love of amateur dramatics and walnut cake Pam Ferris is wonderful as older Angela, taking the listener into her confidence and confusion, forgetting she has a son and longing for the daughter she lost, nevertheless a portrait of a strong woman. Toby Jones is a sensitive, strong Ted, a constant support throughout.
Beautifully directed by Polly Thomas, Ravenhill structures his story perfectly, and, although it’s obviously autobiographical, there are many scenes that will resonate with listeners. My mum had dementia in her last years, and although my experience was different, there were many moments of recognition. It’s unflinching in its portrayal of the brutality of dementia, but love, kindness, and support shine though. Beautiful, unmissable work by the entire company.