‘Old Fools’ is worlds away from Boudica, Tristan Bernays epic last play which stormed the Globe last year. According to Bernays, writing a straight play about two ordinary people’s relationship was a challenge set by a friend and a break from his recent high concept works. Relaxed, playful dialogue and an ear for intimacy, Bernays style is still recognisable and whilst the concept maybe relatively simple, there’s nothing simple about the challenge it sets for actors Mark Arends and Frances Grey.

Beginning life as a twenty minute short, ‘Old Fool’s, directed by Sharon Burrell has now been extended to an hour. But it remains a set-less, two hander in the round as we visit moments in time throughout Tom and Viv’s relationship, from their first dance in the 1970’s to the onset of Alzheimer’s and old age. Mark Arends and Frances Grey have no-where to hide in Burrells tight direction, turning on a sixpence as they leap in and out of decades, forward and back in time and in Grey’s case from character to character as she is mother and daughter too.

Tom and Viv are basically nice, recognisable people who face ordinary decisions and make ordinary mistakes. Does Tom have a right to dictate which country they live in when he’s earning far less than Viv? Is it fair for her to belittle him for this when he is the jazz pianist she fell in love with? When their daughter Alice is born, guess who stays out and avoids the responsibility? And how do they survive the pain of a mindless infidelity? What is made explicit is that they do survive whatever they encounter – together. Their motto is ‘Me, you, us and Alice.’ Maybe a little too cute for those who like a darker drama but we know before the play begins that they will end up facing the ravages of Alzheimer’s so the tenderness is some relief.

Though the time frame is huge and the characters never boring, the concept is not particularly dramatic. But Bernays has spiced it up with a game. The game is - see if you can end each scene with the first line of the next scene but give the line a totally different meaning as it plunges you into a new moment in time. These juxtapositions are often witty and surprising, highlighting the interplay between change and continuity. But in the end what remains is not the game but a chance to witness the sweetness and devotion of two ordinary people in an intimate space.
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