Written by John Fitzpatrick and directed by Sarah Davey-Hull, Reared focuses on three generations of women in the same home. In the early 20th century, that wouldn’t have been so unusual, but with the ascendency of the nuclear family, it’s less common having extended family members under the same roof and even then it’s usually short-lived.
Much like the Babooshka Russian dolls that fit inside each other, the stories of each of the women can be viewed separately, but greater clarity is seen when viewed together.
Eileen (Shelley Atkinson) and Stuart (Daniel Crossley) live in a house with their 15-year-old daughter Caitlin (Danielle Phillips) and Stuart’s mother Nora (Paddy Glynn). Nora has begun to show the first signs of dementia, but it’s left to Eileen to deal with most of the ‘caring’ for her. Eileen’s been on Stuart’s case to finish building the accommodation for Nora in the back garden so that they’ll have some more space to themselves. Meanwhile, Caitlin hasn’t picked up on the tension between her mother and grandmother. She’s too busy dealing with the fact she’s pregnant. The father? Her slightly older ‘friend’ Colin (Rohan Nedd).
To begin with, the family seem to follow the conventional paradigm of the wife in charge of the household and the husband a handyman and procrastinator – at least when it comes to completing oddjobs around the house. As Eileen and Nora are both from Ireland, one would think that common background would make it easier for them to get along, but that isn’t the case. This can be attributed to strain of caring for Nora’s dementia full-time, but there is something else that permanently sits between them – an ‘elephant in the room’…
All the characters are single-minded about what they want, regardless of the consideration of others, which leads to inevitable friction. Eileen want Nora out of the house, but Nora doesn’t want to be ‘abandoned’ in a care home. Despite his wife’s protestations, Stuart is reluctant to believe his mother has severe dementia, and Caitlin doesn’t want to give details about who the father of her baby is and how it happened. Of all the people in the play with mixed motives, Nora and Colin come out the best, as they are truly altruistic.
One of the things that Reared accomplishes is highlight the emotional mindfield that accompanies dementia taking place in a parent or partner’s parent. Invariably there is no win-win situation and adult offspring have to live with the consequences regardless. As the primary caregivers in the family, women have a disproportionate amount of stress and the first to recognise changes in each other. The way that Fitzpatrick in his writing subtly alludes Caitlin’s Lady Macbeth scene to Nora and Eileen is unexpected, but it does serve to remind us even with a strong matriarch, in their quieter moments… in their sleep… there’s no running away from their innermost thoughts.
© Michael Davis 2018
Reared runs at Theatre 503 until 28th April.