Visitors (Bush Theatre), London

Anything that contains Linda Bassett and Robin Soans, two of our most beloved, most talented actors, is going to have `Special’ written all over it. And this one by Barney Norris is an absolute beauty.

It may be his first full length play but Norris is also the author of an acclaimed biography of that master of personal sensitivities, Peter Gill. Visitors bears all the hallmarks of Gill (and maybe Chekhov)’s influence insofar as its modest context contains within it some of human kind’s most timeless issues: how to live one’s life and the passing of it like an imperceptible dream.

Edie and Arthur sit in their old chairs in a Wiltshire farmhouse. And smile and reminiscence with all the affection fifty years of connubial bliss can bring. Not that all has been plain sailing, as Edie later admits. She once saw Arthur having lunch in town with another woman. But the suspicion didn’t last long. She always knew `he was a good boy’.

With a stealth and finesse you can only marvel at, Norris, his director Alice Hamilton and the wonderful Bassett and Soans lead us merrily up the garden path thinking this is a) a tale of an ageing marriage and b) the onset of Edie’s gradual dementia, more pronounced by the end.

But – and here’s the extraordinary thing – Visitors is only partially if topically about these things. With terrible, delayed heart-ache – as if only realising in slo-mo that you’ve received a blow to the solar plexus – Visitors is the story of their son, Stephen, the real `visitor’ and outsider to Edie and Arthur’s marriage, not the friendly, `slightly mad’ Kate who post-uni has come to help look after Edie as she diminishes.

Norris scores several bulls-eyes about the painful practical aspects of looking after the demented through Stephen, a 40-something insurance manager whose own marriage is on the rocks. But it is the agonised lack of communication between him, Edie and Arthur that ultimately strikes home and leaves one tearful as much as the emotions that play across Bassett’s face and her memories of joy and regret for a life less lived. Beautiful.

First published on Reviewsgate website, Dec 2014;