Review: Plaques and Tangles, Royal Court

“It’ll be bad for other people”

Like a Rubik’s Cube forever going wrong, Megan’s memory – ravaged by early onset Alzheimer’s – keeps shifting and reforming itself in endless configurations that don’t quite work. And so in Nicola Wilson’s Plaques and Tangles, we see her at different ages, skittering from 21 to 47, juddering between 32 and 27, her very sense of self fractured by a cruelly progressive disease which in her darkest moments, leaves her unaware if she is even awake or hallucinating in the traverse cocoon of Andrew D Edwards’ set design.

This is made more poignantly powerful by the fact that she has a family, two kids and a husband who suffer alongside her but more often isolated from her as the wife and mother they love becomes harder to find. And with the disease having a high genetic propensity, Wilson’s play probes into the messy ethics of early diagnosis – we first meet Megan on the day she discovers she has a 50-50 chance of developing it – which just happens to be on her hen night – but becomes ambivalent once given the chance to find out for sure.

So begins the tension of challenging decisions that cast individual wants against collective need – her desire to not be considered a victim leading her to keep secrets for the longest time, in the wearing down of impossibly tolerant husband Jez (incidentally not the man she’s engaged to at the beginning of the show), the emotional fragility of her son and daughter whose own status as carriers is in question too. We see there’s real freedom in the choice to live purely in the moment but also brutally real consequences too.

And like that pesky Rubik’s Cube, it can be a frustrating experience. The splintered timeline is deliberately disarming, considering the subject matter, and Lucy Morrison’s production has something of a clinical chilliness that certainly keeps the play from ever becoming mawkish but also keeps the audience at a distance, especially with its strange cod-vaudeville ending. The excellent Monica Dolan is remarkable throughout as the older Megan(s) though, most moving with the ongoing realisation and recognition that this is something she can’t beat.

Ferdy Roberts as husband Jez is charm personified as her emotional punching-bag and there’s an interesting choice to cast other actors as their youngest incarnations, an intimation that these are almost different selves. Robert Lonsdale is sweetly appealing but Rosalind Eleazar is truly mesmeric here, the allusions and pre-echoes of what’s to come perfectly weighted, she emerges as a vibrant presence of whom I’m excited to see much more. A daring first play for Wilson and one unafraid to be difficult.

Running time: 2 hours (without interval)
Photo: Bill Knight

Booking until 21st November

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