Edinburgh Festival: These Halcyon Days (4 stars)

A play that captures a generation, just not the one normally associated with this phrase, Deirdre Kinahan’s honest, funny and strikingly well-observed two-hander set in a care home for the elderly gives a voice to people it seems many of us would rather see shut up and shut away.

Vividly brought to life through exceptional performances from Stephen Brennan and Anita Reeves – as wheelchair bound Sean, a man losing his mind but not his sense of humour, and new arrival Patricia, who appears far too competent to be there – Kinahan paints her characters with truth and dignity. It’s a reminder of how rare it is to see older people portrayed this well.

Sean, someone who, when we first meet him, is staring into space and shaking, has resigned himself to a slow and inevitable demise. Patricia, a chipper Irish woman, thinks all he needs to do is get “active” again. Has he tried carrots? Fish oils? Peppermint tea? What about yoga? She won’t be staying here, she tells him; this is just a temporary thing. You can imagine Sean saying the same when he first arrived.

In the grey, tatty conservatory of an institution where half the residents are incapacitated and the other half drugged up, Patricia probes Sean about his life. He replies with whatever he fancies – rarely the actual answer to the question. “They should put you in the brochure,” she says when he lets slip that he used to be a film star. “You’d draw in more clients than the incontinence chair.”

The more they talk, the more lucid Sean becomes. As their unlikely friendship develops, we get to know the people they once were, and still are, despite their loved ones being apparently no longer able to see this. They grow to appreciate one another and, through witnessing this, we are able to appreciate them too – and consider how we treat the elderly in our own lives. There aren’t many younger people in today’s audience, which is a shame as not only is this a piece those in their 20s and 30s would enjoy, it’s one they need to see.

Written for The Scotsman

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