Reviewer: Lorna Didsbury
Location: The New Playhouse, Manchester.
It was the perfect setting to see Over the Garden Fence, a brilliant two-woman show written and performed by Hayley Riley and Louise Evans, about the simultaneously tragic and comedic aspects of dementia.
The play follows Annabelle and her grandmother Dolly, retracing memories and moments in Dolly’s life, up to the present day and outlining the onset of her dementia. If you have ever experienced anyone close to you develop dementia, you will know that while it is a devastating illness for both the person and their loved ones to deal with, it produces all kinds of moments which can be ridiculous in their hilarity.
They do say if you don’t laugh you’ll cry – and that’s the balance Riley and Evans strike in Over the Garden Fence. The play chronicles flashbacks of Dolly’s life, including those memories recalled several times with opposing descriptions. Such as when Dolly met Annabelle’s grandfather on a beautiful sunny day, or was it during the storm to end all storms?
It also tersely confronts the way in which society views not only dementia but also what is perceived to be ‘normal’ behaviour. This is explored brilliantly through the chit-chat and gossip of Dolly’s neighbours – conducted like Chinese whispers over their garden fences.
The neighbour’s snapshots of Dolly’s increasingly erratic or unusual behaviour magnifies that there is still a huge way to go in societal understanding and care for those with such conditions. Often when people are uninformed, or even fearful of something, the default reaction is to have your two penneth anyway – and while no malice may be intended by neighbours, some of whom were once friends of Dolly, ultimately their reactions are the most sombre parts of the production.
While the majority of the play takes place inside Dolly’s front room and inside her not yet forgotten memories, granddaughter Annnabelle maintains patience and humour as she helps her grandmother come to terms with some of the harsher realities of her failing mind.
The play was thoroughly well thought out and humour certainly came in the right dose at the right times. The uncomplicated set and strong acting means I look forward to seeing much more from the duo and Haylo Theatre Company is definitely one to watch our for.