Sara Beer reviews a performance of Kaite O’Reilly's latest play, performed at Sherman Cymru Theatre, Cardiff, March 2008
The Almond and the Seahorse explores the relationships between survivors of traumatic brain injury and their loved ones. This is not a play about a condition but rather a thought-provoking drama about people’s lives that have been changed forever by something that could happen to anyone. Gwennan (Olwen Rees) is involved in a car crash and no longer recognises herself or her husband Tom (Ian Saynor). Joe (Celyn Jones) has survived the removal of a brain tumour but now has memory loss. Dr Farmer (Mojisola Adebayo) gives us the medical facts about Joe's and Gwennan’s injuries but it is their beautifully drawn characters that makes this play so engaging. A strength of O’Reilly’s writing is her ability to create complete, rounded, in-depth characters that an audience can care about.
Kaite O'Reilly's play also studies the concept of time and what it means to someone with memory loss and their families. There are some golden moments when Sarah (Nia Gwynne) talks about the impossibility of having a future when living with someone so firmly stuck in the present. This moving and witty play will ring true with anyone who has experienced the life-changing effects of memory loss - the humour as well as the bereavement of losing someone with whom you are still having a relationship.
Phillip Zarrilli’s uncomplicated, considerate direction brings the writing to life. It would be easy to turn such a subject into melodrama, but this production is totally honest. Fiona Watt’s simple but effective set assists in the flow of the piece. Dr Farmer’s notes are projected onto the set, which is unsettling as well as striking, and along with the lighting helps to emphasise the fragments and shadows of the injured brain.
All five actors give strong, convincing performances. This is not an easy play but each performer finds a very definite pace to keep the audience captivated. Joe and Sarah’s story is perhaps the easiest to engage with, largely due to Celyn Jones who manages to portray the many faces of Joe with charm and an extraordinary depth. A highlight for me is Joe trying to make sense of the world of notebooks and alarms his wife has created for him to help him get through the day.
There will be many debates as to where this work sits in the world of Disability Arts. But one thing is for sure: this brilliant play has succeeded in bringing Disability Arts into a mainstream arena. The Almond and The Seahorse should be seen by many. If you don’t live near Cardiff or Manchester treat yourself to a weekend by the sea and experience this striking piece of theatre in Aberystwyth – it will be worth the trip.