Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
Review by Sion Lidster
A packed house sits in silence and watches the four empty chairs sat before them. The stage is slowly filled by four actors over the age of 60, one of whom rests herself straight in front of a television set. Three elderly women and one elderly man, living and dying together in a cancer hospice, set the scene for Patrick Jones‘ latest play, Dandelion.
This subdued subject matter might not be what you have come to expect from the man who wrote Revelation or The War is Dead Long Live the War. You may think that it lacks the crucial urgency, or the vitriolic commentary, that is burrowed deep in much of his work. This perception will all change of the next 90 minutes, as we are taken on a journey of hopes, dreams, regrets, and redemption, as these four character prepare to transcend this mortal coil.
The obvious weight of the theme is gladly lightened by a melancholic comic air that weaves itself throughout the play. Much of this laughter is provided by the youthful hearted Ernest, played by Anthony Leader, as he continues his mission to present the others with some excitement in the lives. Mrs. Hartson, played by Lynn Hunter, is equally hilarious in her sardonic retorts spoken from her television hub. Olwen Rees‘ portrayal of the innocent yet fragile Mary is a harrowing reminder of the plight of age, whilst Sharon Morgan’s monologues as Rachel brought me to the verge of tears on more than one occasion.
The soul of the play is the attention to each individual’s truth. All too often in our society, the elderly are cast to the sidelines, they are the dandelions; the weeds ready to be plucked from the garden. Here, Patrick Jones uses the time he spent in a hospice to provide a voice to the voiceless, and to highlight the fact that there is a wealth of emotion deep in every human being, whether you are willing to see it or not.
The acting is superb, the writing is magnetic (particularly the poetic streams of consciousness), and Michael Kelligan’s direction artfully segues between collective conversations and inner monologues with rhythmic ease.
The play is filled with hope and despair. On one hand there is the everlasting optimism of Ernest, and his call to arms through the words of Jack London. On the other, there is the dementia of Mary, a blatant reminder of the finality of life. Overall, there is a sense of the present – that we are here now to live our lives to the utmost, to build bridges and to enjoy every second we have left.
There will have been many people leaving the theatre making that phone call to the one they love whilst they still can. Such is the power of a humanist work of art, such is the power of Dandelion.