Tuesday 11th February 2020 at Harrogate Theatre (Studio).
Doubt and shadows do indeed pervade this interesting piece from Gill Mcvey who writes, directs and stars as the daughter of a mother lost to dementia and a husband lost to an abrupt, unexpected end. Now living with her father and greeted daily by a warmly can-do care worker, she’s a sitting duck for intrusive doubts of various kinds.
And that doubt extends to us through some well placed and sustained ambiguity across A Shadow of Doubt. The notion of time slipping away and the lost urgency for living in the moment leave us questioning precisely which of this trio really needs either of the others and in what capacity. Perhaps the most defining element of this story is its ability to highlight just how susceptible we are to suggestion when seeds are planted. Mention dementia and every slip up becomes a screaming siren of alarm. But there’s tenderness and more gentle handling of the subject matter here too which is no doubt a warm reflection of Mcvey’s time spent with dementia patients and their families.
Our cast of three are various incarnations of internalised anguish. They’ve all suffered loss; Chris Rawson gives the father a deflated, helpless air but with a much needed tentative resignation of the stoic variety, even as his daughter becomes ever more sharp around the edges. Mcvey’s performance as the daughter is booze-addled and tormented, courting sympathy even as her disproportionate behaviours create distance.
Sue Rawson’s take on the carer role is perfectly pitched to play into Mcvey’s pointed ambiguity; her support blankets the surviving members of this struggling family as they co-exist without much connection. It’s nice to have a story take the time to flesh out such a character too – to learn of the muted woes of the ‘support’ character is refreshing.
Less effective is Mcvey’s inclusion of an flashback to childhood played by the existing cast who don’t quite pull it off. It’s not an idea to be dismissed in a piece exploring memory, trauma and dementia, but it doesn’t quite land here, feeling awkward and overdone where it should presumably feel poignant and enlightening.
Set design from Caitlin Mawhinney on the other hand is excellent. Fragmented and stylised, it provides a meaningful visual backdrop as well as functional space. Sand literally marks the minutes and as it trickles from an overhead source it also lies at the feet of the characters who exist around an unmoving dining room table. The narrative ploughs through the day to day arrivals and departures into this room, drip-feeding snatches of information as time goes by and all the while leaving us to our own conclusions.
A Shadow of Doubt raises some interesting questions and offers a sincere study of life spent struggling to get free from the grip of dementia. It’s not always the smoothest of productions, but there’s certainly a sense of worthwhile exploration to be felt.
A Shadow of Doubt is presented by Time Will Tell Theatre Company. It plays Harrogate Theatre until February 13th 2020 and you can find tickets here.
Side note: I’d love to know who takes responsibility for set and direction in this production but alas, with no cast or creatives list available, audiences left with no information about those responsible for the work they’ve seen. While I’ve trawled online as much as possible, I’ve only managed to dig deep enough to discover cast names and even then the information did not come from the theatre company’s own website or platforms. I mention this just as a casual but pointed sideline as a gentle reminder of the importance of making information readily available for audiences… So high praise goes to whoever is responsible for the set design! NOTE: Review has now been edited to include credits for direction and design.