Thursday, 22 May 2003

A Tree, Falling by Ron Elisha , May 22, 2003

A Tree, Falling  by Ron Elisha  
Chapel off Chapel, May 22 to  June 7, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Jonathan Hardy  is exceptional in Ron Elisha's witty, moving and beautifully observed new play, A Tree, Falling. He portrays Lenny Riefenstahl,  a confused old man suffering Alzheimer's and, finally, a stroke. Lola,  his 'friendly visitor' sent by the council, is played sympathetically by Kirsty Childs.

The play has a simple but effective structure. It comprises a series of visits by Lola to Lenny's home over a short period of time.  Lenny's health deteriorates and Lola's maddeningly cheerful patience degenerates into frustration, pain and a desperate need for Lenny to recognise her.

Lenny's very muddle-headedness and the collision of his and Lola's realities are the core of Elisha's wry, black humour. Lenny behaves as if Lola is lonely, deluded and a total stranger - every time she visits. It is enough to drive Lola to distraction. Lola becomes almost as confused as Lenny although he is completely oblivious to his own confusion or hers.

For anyone with experience of an aged parent suffering dementia or a stroke, this will be painfully and humorously reminiscent of that wild ride. We laugh at the recalcitrant old fella  who finds simple pleasure in 'the joy of forgetting'. Hardy is completely believable, entertaining and touching as Lenny. He is the focus and Child's as Lola is his satellite in the play.

Director, David Letch,  stages the play on a simple, abstract set. This stylisation allows their colliding worlds to take on a surreal quality. Letch's clever theatrical conceit has an anonymous stage assistant to shift props and removes clothing from Lenny in almost ritualised slow motion. The lighting design by Kerensa Diball  crates a sense of anticipation on stage. The dramatic environment is enhanced by music composed by Marc Chesterman.

We come to know and love Lenny as we would a friend. However, we know him only by report. We never see the man who was Lenny when he was in full possession of his faculties.

Elisha cleverly reveals, through the fragmented conversations of Lola and Lenny, snippets of information about his life and character, his skills, his family, schooling, his two wives and his German background. A Tree, Falling, is a delightful and poignant piece of theatre about a magnetic character diminished by age and illness.

By Kate Herbert

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