AT first glance, dementia doesn’t sound like a particularly promising subject for a comedy.
But actress Linda Bassett, who is tackling the role of sufferer Edie in Visitors, assures me there is plenty of humour as well as emotion in the new play.
Premiering at the Everyman in Cheltenham on Monday and Tuesday, Visitors is a sharply funny love story about a family falling apart under the pressures the illness brings and how it affects individual lives.
“It’s about missed opportunities and the way our lives can slip by us,” said Linda, as the cast put the final touches to the play in their London rehearsals.
“It’s a beautiful play about a family who are very particular kinds of people and how they relate to each other.”
Taking on a character on the downward spiral into dementia cannot have been an easy part to play and Linda said she has had to do a lot of reading around the subjects as well as talking to people who have experienced it.
“The author, Barney Norris, has also included a lot of directions which made it easier, but it was something I have never had to tackle before,” she said.
“I think most of us at some time or another will experience the effects of dementia so the story has parts that will touch many people’s lives.”
Visitors is set in a remote farmhouse on the edge of Salisbury Plain, with Edie’s husband, Arthur, worrying how he can support his wife while working full-time, and only son, Stephen, unable to pay for her care.
When a young stranger with blue hair moves in to care for Edie as her mind unravels, the family is forced to ask: are we living the way we wanted?
Visitors deals with the way the recession has affected rural areas as well as how we deal with care in later life.
“When someone is in the early stages of the illness, they can be drifting off one moment and at other times can be just as they always were. It must be a terribly difficult thing for everyone affected to deal with,” said Linda.
With a prolific career behind her, Linda, who celebrated her 64th birthday just a few days ago, is looking forward to touring again.
“I haven’t toured for a while so I’m quite excited about it,” she said.
“With anything you do as an actor you get very close to the people you are working with very quickly and it is an intense relationship that lasts for a short while before you move on to the next thing.
“I have made some very good friends through my work and I do tend to keep in touch with people.”
Nominated for a BAFTA for her role in East is East, Linda is best-known for her roles in The Reader with Kate Winslet, Calendar Girls with Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, and the TV series Lark Rise to Candleford.
She has performed at the National Theatre, Royal Court and RSC, and most recently to critical acclaim in Roots at the Donmar Warehouse.
“I was always keen on acting, even as a child when I seemed to get parts in school plays by accident more than intention,” she said. “There have been times when I’ve been waiting for the next job, like any actor, but I have been very lucky in my career to do a lot of very varied work.
“Visitors is another new experience for me but one that I am looking forward to immensely. “It’s a very engaging play and I hope audiences will get as much out of it as we have.”
n Visitors is at the Everyman Studio Theatre on Monday and Tuesday at 7.45pm. Tickets cost £10.50 from 01242 572573.