In a one-woman performance of delicate sensitivity Donna Rutherford softly brings to the surface the issues surrounding the ageing process and in particular the changes old age brings to the parent-child relationship.
Figures published earlier this year predict that one in four people aged 16 years and under can expect to live to see their 100th birthday. This news furnishes Rutherford’s latest work with a keen pertinence, as the practical and emotional issues she raises are often avoided: facing the fact of the often slow deterioration into death takes a certain fearlessness to confront head-on. However the discussion needs to be had and Rutherford is at least brave enough to get the ball rolling.
She interviewed 5 performers, all in their 40s and 50s, about their changing relationship with their elderly parents. Edited videos of these interviews were interpolated between reflections directed straight to the audience by Rutherford herself. As she moved between three tables, sitting at each in turn to symbolically prepare breakfast, afternoon tea and evening cocoa, on the three TV screens beside her the performers spoke frankly and poignantly about their own experiences.
The discussion began gently, speaking in general terms about the cycle of life: the idea that we return to a childlike existence in old age and whether that resonated with the observations of their own parents. There were thoughtful attempts to understand how it must feel to become more infirm, to reach the stage where you must turn your face away from looking towards your future and turn instead towards saying goodbye and the legacy you will leave behind.
Along with the gradual build-up to the really serious stuff came some genuinely funny moments, and with the laughter came a sense of shared experience that brought some relief. We are very good at avoiding the fact of our own and others’ mortality and it feels very brave even to attend a performance where such uncomfortable subjects are voiced.
What this piece made clear was that avoiding ageing and death is not an option and that talking about it really does help - despite the fact that most of us would agree with Rutherford when she says, ‘I don’t believe I’ll actually be dead one day!’. This is a thought-provoking performance and the audience are invited to a discussion with Donna Rutherford covering any issues raised after the show. I, however, wasn’t quite brave enough for that.
Performance seen on Thursday 4th November