by Zöe Mills
Whose Life Is It Anyway?
Hester is a feisty elderly woman used to getting her own way. A once celebrated concert cellist, her decline has now been sealed by a diagnosis of cancer.
Living alone, she exists mainly on a diet of Rioja wine and pills but remains financially independent and surprisingly hip with a wireless connection allowing former PA George (Robin Herford) to contact her via Skype.
So life, even when facing death, continues. There's episodes of Corrie to watch. Surrounded by packing boxes, she plays the cello on a plastic bath stool and gulps her pills.
That's until Sarah, apparently a trainee social worker, shows up and disrupts Hester's erratic routine of cello playing, wine drinking, prescription pill popping, receiving Skype messages and TV watching.
This is essentially a two-hander starring mother and daughter Brigit Forsyth and Zöe Mills, the latter also the writer of the play. Or maybe two plays - for this feels like two character pieces stitched together: A mystery surrounding Sarah with a 21st century social media fetish and Hester's pugnacious hermit-like existence trapped between her previous international, and sometimes salacious, lifestyle and her current vulnerability.
There's certainly a plot, but despite an obviously deliberate decision to leave it inferred, it's somewhat muffled by the character studies of Hester and Sarah. We thought we could also detect a subtext dealing with changes in television and the National Health Service. Yet all these elements do feel yoked together which somewhat deadens the pace of the script.
The plausibility of a dying woman left almost entirely alone except for a phone call from social services also begs questions. However this is perhaps not beyond the realms of possibility as a recent celebrity death in a luxury apartment block illustrates.
The design of Paul Colwell cleverly inserts packing box shapes in the wall which could equally be dated 1960s' décor and also manages to include a revolve to reflect Hester's mental state. Kostis Mousikos and Alan Walsh's projections encompass George's Skyping, evoke the mood of Sarah's outside life and time travels through Hester's past, alongside mystic offstage cello notes (sound design by Harry Johnson) .
At the same time, it struck us, the projections give a clue that this is again a theatre piece which might not show the seams so much on screen. On stage this feels like a workmanlike writing debut for Mills. So, it's an amber light for a piece with solid performances directed by Antony Eden with an eye to the play's potential.