Battersea Arts Centre, London – under 25 May 2019
From the sublime to the ridiculous summarises this unusual performance piece. Jon Haynes and David Woods take to the stage as Violet and Norman with guest appearances from Arthur. The dark and uncomfortable path the aged couple embark on has a feel of The League of Gentlemen surrounding it where you expect the unexpected.
It is not easy to specify how long this couple have been together or married although this isn’t relevant to the storyline. From watching their stature and mobility, they are probably in their mid 90s. The impression from their dinner suit and evening gown suggests they are celebrating an anniversary. Although this is never clarified.
Dialogue comes through in bursts. Listen carefully to what each character says as the pitch never changes so key issues with their relationship are masked. The opening speech delivered predominantly by Norman is one of praise to the audience as though he is talking to friends and family. With much love and adulation for those standing before him, which led to the suggestion of a party style get together taking place.
Arthur appears briefly during Violet’s absence as played by the same actor. As the third party in this relationship, things are not as they seem as the men begin a slow walk around the front and back of stage calling out to each other. Make of it what you will.
There is the uncomfortable scene between the ending of their night and the reading of obituaries where the audience witnesses the suggestion of Violet performing oral sex on Norman. It’s extremely awkward and uncomfortable to watch.
Obituaries after Violet’s death are brilliantly delivered in Norman’s own style. There are some extremely funny remarks and messages left on social media which he reads out on a large stack of paper which he has pointed out. This part requires more concentration than others as the comedy sections flow on from the standard messages.
At this point, Arthur returns to the stage and with what has the potential to be a reunion between the two men. He dies in the arms of Norman. However, due to the scenes delivery, his death isn’t sad.
Watching Arthur’s dead body leave the stage is a touch of genius. He moves in such a way that you are aware he is going but still not sure exactly how. The limp body manipulates itself around and off the stage in around five minutes without making a sound.
Whether or not you fully understand what is taking place throughout the performance. Watching Haynes and Woods finely timed acting cues, delivery and incredible attention to the body movements of ageing people was amazing. From the arthritic contorted fingers, jolting spasms and painfully slow walking across the stage. For this alone they deserve a lot of credit.
They never break character throughout any point during the performance and even at the end when they took their position for the finishing applause they stand in the doorway in the manner of waving off some visiting friends.
Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, London SW11 5TN
Box office: 020 7223 2223
Tickets: £18, £15 (£12.50 concessions)
Running time: 60 minutes
Suggested age range: 13+
Written on behalf of London Theatre 1.