A lone old woman croons over a pillow, as if it were her son Kenneth. And from here on, Bedsocks and Secrets weaves together themes that include dementia, care of the elderly, loneliness, and guilt. This hour-long production, which switches back and forth between the stories of the mother and the son, is well-written and mostly well-executed.
This script showcases the sad reality of some care homes, and the indignity which can surround issues of mental health. You feel for the residents of this particular home, who are clearly not seen as people; the care workers talk over them, ignore them, even laugh at them. But you feel for the care workers too, who are overworked and underpaid, and would probably lose it if they truly empathised with every patient.
Also evocative are the themes of loneliness – as Kenneth’s life alone in his car, chatting with a much younger girl, shows. She and a wannabe model both hang out with Kenneth, and this unlikely trio is the epitome of modern-day disillusionment with adulthood, sexuality, and life.
Some technique is very well executed. For instance, there is a scene where Ella, the mother, sings to herself in the mirror. There is no mirror on stage: only a younger Ella who twirls and sings at the same time. And with ‘Sunshine, my only sunshine’, they spin and change places. Well done! Some scenes between mother and son, who is a man much older than she thinks, are also memorable. Humour in the form of the talkative care workers is well-written, and in that humour lies a world of irony – as when one of the women gestures to Ella and says ‘I hope someone shoots me if I get like that’.
However, I felt that the pronounced difference between the old and the young Ella did the play a disservice. They are both able actors (though it’s the older one, for me, who’s truly classic), but they have very different styles and are made to look nothing like each other. Possibly that is completely intentional, but I found the incongruous dissimilarity took something away rather than adding to the play.
There was also a certain finesse and attention to detail that was missing. As a viewer, I’d rather not see set items marked ‘Red Diamond Theatre Props’. And while the caked white makeup on some of the characters was appropriate, on the elderly dementia patient Jane it felt completely out of place.
But it’s the strength of the script which carries the play through. The dialogue delivery and stage presence of all the actors is good as well – and all in all, given the important themes it touches upon, this will be a home run for many viewers.