With an expanding ageing population and lengthening life expectancy, the subject of how we care for the elderly is a subject close to many. Of course, the experience and expectations change over time and in Laura Poliakoff’s Clockwork we jump forward 80-odd years to see what sort of future today’s 20-somethings face in old age.
In a bleak, grey, run-down hospital ward of the future, two 100-somethings muse from their wheelchairs about the past. Clad in the Adidas tracksuits of their youth, reminiscing doesn’t come easy as the passage of time and dementia cloud the memory. Despite technological advances that have seen memory chips become available for the uploading of neural patterns, the line between real and false memory is blurred. There’s also a clear line between state care and private, with an burgeoning elderly population stretching resources. It makes for a bleak and isolated life, an isolation heightened when one of your key memories may not be all that it seems.
Poliakoff lays some intriguing issues on the table in Clockwork; how we care for the elderly, dementia, NHS resources, and even a hint of euthanasia but, at times it seems that less would be more. Some areas are touched upon and then abandoned, leaving the audience to draw its own conclusion. While this is an effective device if used sparingly, here it often seems more of a notebook for potential story arcs.
There is much to enjoy, however; the sparring between patients Mikey and Carl and their long-suffering nurse, Ruth, otherwise known as Troll Face, work well and Poliakoff’s dialogue is full of dark humour.
There’s impressive work from the entire company; Kern Falconer and Russell Floyd as the reluctantly ageing pair Mikey and Carl, Rachel Atkins (Troll Face), Shomarri Diaz’s community service worker Etienne and Matilda Ziegler’s Sarah.
Richard Kent has created an immersive design that places the audience at the heart of the institution and Steven Atkinson’s direction keeps the action flowing with pace.
There’s potential but it’s a script that would benefit from some revision to flesh out some of the concepts further. There’s real potential for a look at the impact of dementia but the issue is never fully embraced. In its current form, the ending also seems somewhat unsatisfactory, uncertain if it’s real or imaginary. The drama itself is strong enough that, in many ways, this denouement proves unnecessary and distracting.
Clockwork is a promising full length stage debut from Poliakoff and one that, with a bit of tinkering, could be ticking over for a while yet.
Photo: Bill Knight
Originally written for The Public Reviews