AGEING

Quarter Life Crisis // Yolanda Mercy

This lyrical monologue documents the quarter-life crisis of its main character Alicia Adewale. It’s the crisis that comes about through that odd return to childhood forced on graduates and young people by unaffordable rents, casualisation and wealth inequality. The one of leaving home, achieving independence and then returning as though nothing has changed. This tension is at the heart of the performance, the comforting familiarity of being back in a parent’s house and slipping back into the childhood role that goes with it. Embracing unquestioning support, less as an alternative to independence as much as one of the only options available.

The performance is built out of teenage and twenty-something memories and reflections on nights out, with the changing lives of friends and potential new responsibilities looming into focus. And as much as Adewale, a young Londoner of Nigerian descent, measures herself against friends and their marriages, children and homes, she also compares her situation to the histories of parents and distant relatives. The age she is now the same age as her mother was when she had her. The same age as grandparents who left their homes for a better life, the same age as ancestors were elected king or stolen as slaves. Adults, independent and fully formed, with a strong sense of who they were, and yet she still relies on her mother for everything.

But what Quarter Life Crisis correctly implies is that this deferral of adulthood is not the fault of the young people it traps. The tabloid label of the ‘boomerang generation’ deemphasises the responsibilities of those gone before. The shift away from job security in favour of the gig economy, and the housing crisis that leaves flats unavailable and houses unattainable, was not initiated by Adewale’s generation. Nor was the wild variation between the pay of those at the top and those just starting out. The delay in independence is simply a consequence of late capitalism.

The state of the Young Person’s Railcard, something referenced throughout the performance, reveals this truth. The recently announced extensions, the 26 to 30-year-old ‘Young Workers’ card, continues to move the goalposts of achieving full adulthood past your twenties entirely. Absent from the conversation is the idea that the current economy is unsustainable, that in a situation where 30 years old requires a discount simply to travel to work it might be a deeper, more structural problem that needs addressing.

-       Lewis Church 

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Yolanda Mercy  - Quarter Life Crisis

Is the New 25-30 Railcard Just An Attempt to Distract?The Badger

Boomerang Children - Guardian

Lack of Choice and Moving Back HomeThe DeBrief

Young People’s Changing Routes to Independence (2002) – Joseph Rowntree Foundation

DollyWould // Sh!t Theatre

Dolly, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, was named after Dolly Parton, the country singer, who has a theme park in America, which is near the University of Tennessee's Forensic Anthropology Center, which is sometimes known as a 'body farm'. Written down, the links between these things feel tenuous, but in Sh!t Theatre's DollyWould, they intermingle in a joyful and chaotic exploration of celebrity, fandom, duplication, preservation and decay.

When she was born, in 1996, Dolly the sheep had a white face, which indicated that she was indeed a clone (otherwise she would have had a black face like her surrogate mother). The research that produced her, at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, was exploring ways to introduce new genes into an animal. Already by the 1980s, scientists could do this in mice by manipulating embryonic stem cells, but such cells from larger mammals were not available, so cloning was a potential alternative for enhancing livestock. Today, genome editing tools like Crispr/Cas can be used much more easily to the same effect.

Dolly the sheep was cloned from two cells: one was an egg cell, the other an adult sheep's mammary gland cell. Mammary glands produce milk, whether in ovine udders or human breasts, and this, rather than any similarity between their hair, was why she was named after Dolly Parton. Essential to human life - all mammalian life, in fact - as well as to the Parton story, breasts are an integral part of this show. Through playing clips from media interviews over the years, DollyWould notes that Parton has endured much curiosity about her body, especially her breasts (are they natural or enhanced?), her weight and her sexuality. 

Dolly the sheep died in 2003. Juxtaposing the Dollys' stories with the body farm focuses attention on death, decay and whatever comes after. As for this show and what may come after, Sh!t Theatre seem intent on following Parton's own definition of success: 'Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, scare 'em a little bit and then leave'.

- Michael Regnier

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

DollyWould - Sh!t Theatre

The Life of Dolly - Roslin Institute

Towards Dolly: Edinburgh, Roslin and the Birth of Modern Genetics - Edinburgh University Library Centre for Research Collections 

What is Gene-Editing and How Does It Work? - Royal Society 

Dollywood

This Is What Happens When You Die - Mosaic

The Body Farm - Atlas Obscura

Descent // A Moment White Productions

In Ancient Greece, tragedy was when a character fell to an inevitable fate, usually the consequence of some small mistake in their past. Attempts to escape or thwart this fate only locked them in more tightly. By this definition, Descent is a true tragedy, except that the past mistake was not the central character's but perhaps a small, undetectable error in his genetic code that made him susceptible to dementia.

For Rob, it starts with the loss of his pen, hinting innocuously at memory problems but actually foreshadowing the fundamental loss of identity that dementia will bring. The turning point is when he loses his temper with his daughter over a trivial board game. He accuses her of cheating, calls her a bitch. Research shows we perceive that someone with dementia has changed not when they lose their memories, but when their moral compass goes haywire. 'That's not him', Rob's daughter tells us.

Rob feels himself 'metamorphosing', referring explicitly to Kafka's novella. There is now a hard shell that stops him caring so much about other people's feelings. But it is not only Rob who is in descent. His wife, Cathy, is undergoing her own transformation as she takes on the responsibility of caring for her husband even as he starts caring less for her. The actors playing the couple in this production make their metamorphoses stark, seeming to age years under the stage lights even as the lights in both their eyes go dim.

Rob experiences paranoia - he suspects everyone of moving or even hiding his pen - and is at times physically aggressive towards Cathy. These are common, if less well-known symptoms of dementia. There are hints, too, at the incontinence and loss of physical control that follows. Rob and Cathy are still in their 50s - the prime of life. They were not expecting to have to consider carers and care homes. About 4% of people with dementia are under 65, and it can bring different challenges to living with dementia in later life. It can be harder to recognise and diagnose, and can mean more impact on younger families. Cathy starts grieving Rob before he dies. He has already gone, and the rest is inevitable.

- Michael Regnier

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Descent

Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease - Alzheimer's Research UK

Symptoms - Alzheimer's Society

Carers: Looking After Yourself - Alzheimer's Society 

Neurodegeneration and IdentityPsychological Science (2015) 

The Inevitability of Tragedy - Edge Induced Cohesion (2013) 

Hear Me Raw // LipSink Theatre

Hear Me Raw dissects the culture of ‘clean eating’ through a semi-fictionalised monologue based in the personal experience of its performer. Questioning the logic of whether raw smoothies and matcha provide any real solution to deeper emotional problems, Daniella Isaacs blends her real story of acute anxiety and distress with an imagined identity as a food blogger. As ‘Green Girl’, Isaacs evangelises about the need to remove dairy from your diet, replace caffeine and deny sugar, with all the zealotry of a convert. But the stability of this identity is disrupted by the interventions of concern from family, friends and clinical professionals. Isaacs’ clean eating obsession, watched over by the sinister figure of now-disgraced prophet Belle Gibson, grows into a recipe for distress, a diagnosis of Orthorexia Nervosa, and a familial rift.

Alongside its expose of the sometimes-worrying orthodoxy of clean eating adherents, and the modern obsession with demonstrable ‘wellness’, Hear Me Raw also reveals more general problems. Isaacs, graduating from drama school at the start of her story, embodies the anxieties of the modern twenty-something, particularly in the industries of theatre and performance. Her bullshit job typing up casting calls for ‘hot ex-girlfriends’ is a clear reference to the pressures of conforming to industry ideals, and to the unrealistic expectations for young performers that stifle the industry. Encouragingly, there seems to today be a greater awareness of the importance of diverse bodies in theatre, film and television, and a slowly building intolerance for retrograde casting practices. Here a young actor discusses the gulf between her expectation of fame and success and the realities of trying to get there, within the frame of a show that itself gestures towards that same frustrated expectation.

Isaacs suggests at the close that she had previously promised never to make an autobiographical show. Hear Me Raw is defiantly autobiographical, and is at its best when it abandons ‘acting’ in favour of personal testimony. Its central performance is not a dramatic role, but a sharing of a personal story, and a repudiation of the pressures that provoke the quarterlife crisis. 

- Lewis Church

This diagnosis is based on a preview performance at Hackney Showroom, London. Hear Me Raw runs throughout the Fringe at Underbelly George Square.

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Hear Me Raw

Orthorexia Nervosa

“Clean eating” How good is it for you?BBC News

Belle Gibson Court CaseGuardian

The Quarterlife Crisis - Guardian

Lady Parts (Sexist Casting Calls)

Drama Graduates One Year OnThe Stage

Touch // DryWrite

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.

- Rebecca West

In her new play Touch, Vicky Jones explores what the fruits of feminism are, and questions who has the real power in a relationship. Dee, a 33-year-old single woman, has left a failed relationship in Wales to establish herself and make a life in London. She tries to connect with herself and build meaningful connections through a variety of online dating sites, but each liaison widens the gap between her expectations and reality.

Dee confronts Miles, an older man who is part of a group involved with S&M, and argues that he is trying to make her weak. ‘It’s no fun for me if you are weak’ he responds, because that is the game. We pretend we are strong to be mastered by another. Although Dee talks as if she is in control of each relationship, she is actually a victim of what her partners want from her. Eddie, the first man we meet on stage, tells her that ‘there are woman out there who are doing better than you at being a woman. Who enjoy being a woman. And who have their fucking shit together’. But getting her shit together is the very reason Dee rented her tiny bedsit in London.

The big question becomes one of what being a woman is supposed to be in this liberal, forward-thinking twenty-first century. As Elf Lyons writes:

You can’t use multiple relationships to fill the void and give you the gratification that you should be able to give yourself. More love doesn’t mean better love. If you are dating multiple people in order to enhance your self-worth, you end up feeling like out-of-date hummus, feeling jealous anytime anyone chooses to spend time with anyone else, resulting in you treating your partners badly and without respect. 

And this is exactly what happens not just to Dee, but to far too many single thirty-something women, with their biological clock ticking, their hormones buzzing and constant reminders that they are not cohabiting, reproducing, or being what they thought they would be at this stage of their lives. 

Some of the confusion rests with the new generation of men who support the concepts of feminism and yet do not know what is expected of them as partners. As Mark White writes in Psychology Today 

It is difficult for men, especially those of us who appreciate and embrace the importance of being respectful and considerate toward women, to balance those attitudes with the animalistic, non-rational expressions of passion and desire that women want from us.

That is the dilemma faced by singles today. We have commercialized sex to the point where partners are touted as objects to shop for on sites like Tinder or in pornography for momentary excitement and passion, but when it comes to the long haul we are at a loss. No one knows how to react. Just where is the line between subservience and co-operation, dominance and abusive control? 

-       Lynn Ruth Miller

Touch is at the Soho Theatre, London until August 26th 2017. A new production of DryWrite's  Fleabag is at Underbelly, George Square during the Fringe from 21st-27th August.

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Touch - Soho Theatre

Fleabag - Underbelly George Square

Why Men Find It So Hard to Understand What Women Want - Psychology Today

Women’s Attitudes Toward Sex - Huffington Post

Has Feminism Worked? - Telegraph

Elf Lyons - Polyamory: A New Way to Love

SWEET CHILD OF MINE / Bron Batten

SWEET CHILD OF MINE / Bron Batten

While Bron Batten’s performance of Sweet Child of Mine (seemingly) did not seek to directly explore ideas of ageing and care; making the piece with her father led to an additional layer of performance gently weaving itself in. In this piece, the lines between Bron’s relationship to her parents on and off stage begin to blur.

THE DOUG ANTHONY ALLSTARS LIVE ON STAGE!

THE DOUG ANTHONY ALLSTARS LIVE ON STAGE!

In the 1980s, the Doug Anthony All Stars (DAAS) trio were a renowned shock-comedy band. Reunited now, the passage of time has left them as a self-described 'pensioner, cripple and human being'. Lead singer Paul McDermott performs a purposely uncomfortable attitude towards his bandmates that, combined with parody songs and stand-up, highlights a society in which people are allowed to 'fade out' once they leave the realm of healthy prime of life.

(I COULD GO ON SINGING) SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW / FK Alexander

(I COULD GO ON SINGING) SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW / FK Alexander

The volume of this work is at the level of trembling clothes. An affective noise that moves bodies and governs the internal rhythms of an audience to match its ritual of dialogue balladry. The singer is standing in a washed-out strobe aurora with a mic lead coiled in her punk rock grip, hand-in-hand with one from the crowd. The crowd let it lull them into a meditative state.

HOW (NOT) TO LIVE IN SUBURBIA / Annie Siddons

HOW (NOT) TO LIVE IN SUBURBIA / Annie Siddons

A black dog is perhaps a rather genteel metaphor for depression, particularly when compared to the flatulent walrus that Annie Siddons has chosen to represent the encroaching loneliness of her suburban dislocation. Loneliness is not the same as depression, as Siddons points out in the show, but the dog and walrus are wont to introduce each other when you’re vulnerable. They’re from the same stable and they go hand in hand in vast modern cities and their blurred edges. The trek from home to work, the length of the working day, the dislocation of communities from each other and the yawning gap between what you might have and want stretches us thin. 

THIS IS YOUR FUTURE / Lynn Ruth Miller

THIS IS YOUR FUTURE / Lynn Ruth Miller

Lynn Ruth Miller is 82, and she's been doing stand-up for 12 years. The focus of This is Your Future is ageing, and it features faulty hearing aids, fractured limbs, replacement hips, mammograms and colonoscopies. It also discusses the joys and perils of geriatric dating – google it and you'll find a range of websites aimed at 'senior singles', although Miller suggests the obituaries are a good place to find out who's newly available.

ZERO DOWN / Angel On The Corner TC

ZERO DOWN / Angel On The Corner TC

Zero Down is set in a small-town care home in which abuse of the elderly patients is carried out on a daily basis: not by staff but by management, who allow the store cupboard to run out of wet wipes and humans to sit in their own faeces for hours before bothering to send a nurse to them.