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The Promise | Lyric Hammersmith

In its debut collaboration with Birmingham Rep and Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, The Promise has promised and delivered a rousing, ever-deepening analysis into how Dementia rears itself in our world. By closely following one story with uncompromising detail, writers Paula Garfield and Melissa Mostyn share with their audience a painful, yet much needed, narrative. It is a unique performance, yet by no uncertain terms an uncommon experience. This makes the show a must watch for those looking to see a piece of theatre that leaves you with more questions unanswered than clearly defined. 

The Promise is a compelling story that sheds a much needed light on the world that opens up when family and loved ones are diagnosed with dementia. Audiences with lived experience of elderly and social care will be highly familiar, and those who aren’t will learn a tonne about how tough it is to navigate. The general feel of The Promise focuses heavily on its own broader message around how ageing and memory become entangled, misshapen and warped. It was hard hitting at moments like when Rita (Anna Seymour) is placed into care, during an unending struggle to be understood by her carers and the world around her.

A standout performance from James Boyle as Rita’s aloof and detached son Jake, really drove home the strained relationship as a family, with Mike’s (Louis Neethling) passing and backstory further enhancing this. At times, however, it felt that problem after problem was added to the already great pile, and lessened the greater impact of the play’s central elements. Additionally, whilst Jane’s (Erin Hutching) character added that extra bit of friction and high stakes to the story, it just felt like extra waffle. 

The use of set design (Paul Burgess) here was the show’s unique selling point. With a carefully crafted interior set, it was convincingly used and decked out with homely elements that supported the play’s feeling of a snapshot view into this saga; everything from the doors, the wheeled out kitchen island, even a light that came on when characters opened a fridge to retrieve milk for their tea (but no biscuits!). The projection and subsequent video design from Ben Glover opened this stage up to a multimedia experience, that allowed the audience to catch different angles of the story, The cherry blossom was a gorgeous element in tying together both set and script, with multiple nods to the Springtime and the enduring Shakespeare quote “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May”. The chaos of the airport schedule blaring across the stage during that critical past-tense plot moment was super!

Using various lighting styles, particularly in crafting different moods for the present tense of the story and the past tense, lighting designer Holly Ellis really took advantage of the Lyric’s full lighting rig, and crafted excellently a domestic homelife. However, the show’s sound design (Marie Zschommler) felt disappointing, due to the lazy use of piano music.

What promised a rousing story, fell a little flat. The show tried too hard to pack in all of the elements, characters and plot devices. Running at around 75 minutes, it left me struggling to take most of it in. However, it was poignant, and certainly a new experience, having never seen a show using largely only BSL and accompanying captions. The Promise runs until the 11th May. With significant input and involvement from Deafinitely Theatre, we shall see what comes next!

For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Becky Bailey


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