Peering into the corners of life, Barney Norris’ Visitors is a frank assembly of the triumphs and tribulations of old age, mounted against the pangs of youth and the gripes of wrong decisions. Norris offers – and delivers – on a simple promise from the outset, and the cast, particularly in the case of Linda Bassett’s senile Edie, captivate, even if the script’s verbosity sometimes dilutes some of the poignancy.
Edie is losing her mind and a move away from the family home is on the cards. During the daytime, her doting husband Arthur finds things to do as Edie awaits the arrival of her first full-time carer, Kate, a Uni grad who studied for the sake of it. Kate’s ready to take on her most rewarding role yet, and as she goes about it she dodges Stephen, Edie and Arthur’s son who only visits when he needs something. Kate gets on famously with Edie and enjoys her work until Stephen interjects – he’s in the midst of his life but badly derailed. His wife wants out, and his lack of definition is what his parents advise Kate against.
It’s all rather grim stuff watching Edie dissolve away, and duly, Linda Bassett and Robin Soams play a remarkably fine couple in old age. At times their daily shuffling and manoeuvring is impossibly hard to watch; yet their getting on with things is also a playful rubbing of shoulders with the latter ends of life, Edie’s mischievousness a slap-up hurrah before curtain call.
They do say youth is wasted on the young! Although Edie never gets Kate’s twentysomething worries, their fondness for one another makes light work of Edie’s relationship with Stephen. As family politics and ticking clocks begin to weave a final narrative from this sorry lot, the huge varieties of Norris’s script play heart-splittingly close to home.
A tendency to labour on sequences and sentiments in a play as straight forwardly convincing as this made parts of Act 1 and latter stages of Act 2 broader than they should have been, and closer to a conversation I might have in my own living room, not a living room on stage. Yet Visitors is most definitely a crucial joy ride through things that shouldn’t be joyous at all: the ageing process, youthful fear and mid-life paralysis