In many ways this is a timely play: there is current public debate about how society could or should deal with an aging population; and how issues of humanity and compassion can be offset against the economic demands of government and the healthcare industry.
Written by Tamsin Oglesby, Really Old, Like Forty Five – whose action appears to take place in the near future – does indeed set out to look at these issues. The story concerns three aged siblings (reliably played by Marcia Warren, Judy Parfitt and Gawn Grainger) in varying stages of dementia or physical decay. It looks at their relationships with each other and younger generations, and raises the notion of the old having to adopt non-biological grandchildren in order to receive government subsidies and maintain their independent existence.
This strand of the narrative is counter pointed by the scientific and economic machinations of a trio of government advisors. Their domain is suspended above the main stage, which suggests that they have a god-like status in their dealings with and manipulations of the merely mortal elderly.
Altogether the play raises many serious and complex issues. However, while it deals with them in an occasionally amusing fashion, it lacks any dramatic analysis of the subject and fails to give any idea that the characters are anything other than sit-com stereotypes – the batty but feisty old lady masking her physical decline, the eternally youthful older man looking increasingly inappropriate as he tries to maintain an ageless guise; the pregnant teenager with a heart of gold; the scientist brought down by his craven submission to political and economic expediency.
The one outstanding creation in Really Old, Like Forty Five is a robot nurse. Even this character - exquisitely played by Michela Meazza - is actually no more than a camp fantasy, which generates easy laughs without being at all thought provoking in the wider context of the play’s concerns.
Ultimately, this is a rather a disappointing evening’s theatre. It feels like an opportunity missed or an early draft of something that needs more work and context to turn it into a powerful and entertaining drama, rather than the cosy comedy it is at the moment.
Cottesloe Theatre (until 20th April)