These Halcyon Days Assembly Hall

Written by Deirdre Kinahan and directed by Mark O’Rowe, this play was nominated for Best Play in the Irish Times Theatre Awards in 2012 and has won a Scotsman Fringe First Award in 2013. Set in a nursing home in Ireland, it is a tender and life affirming comedy drama.

Sean is a retired actor suffering from dementia who spends his days confined to his wheelchair and sits alone in the conservatory. Patricia, a spinster primary head teacher, is ill with liver disease and has come to the home for respite care and to give her sister a break. She may be ill but she still has life in her and rails against the regime of the home. “We must never give up, Sean” she pleads with him as she gradually starts to bring him out of his cocoon and back into the world. Here is a man who in his heyday had acted alongside all the greats and played all the great roles on the West End stage, who has been robbed of life and hope by dementia and lack of mental stimulation. Stephen Brennan as Sean and Anita Reeves as Patricia are both excellent and allow us to sympathise with their characters’ predicaments as well as laugh out loud at their banter. The scene where he gets out of his wheelchair and they dance to “Shall We Dance” from The King and I is both touching and comic.

Gradually their relationship develops but she misconstrues his attention. Of course, we suspect from the start that Sean is gay and that Tom, who he mentions often but who never visits, is his “partner, lover, friend”. Tom has left him for another man because he got old, forgetful, “wanted peace by the fireside” while Tom “wanted to live”. Patricia confronts him, forcing him to acknowledge what is happening to him, forcing him to get out of his prison, both physically and mentally. It all becomes too much for him and their relationship is almost shattered along with the glass in the conservatory door. Eventually they are reconciled, the tables are turned and Sean becomes the stronger of the pair, urging Patricia to return to her real home where she belongs. She begs him to come with her “You’re dead in here” but he has reached the understanding that he is content to stay, he “is safe here”, he has all his memories and “It’s all I need”.

This is a play with a message but it doesn’t patronise. We all know someone with dementia these days, whether a relative or friend. Perhaps this will help us understand and cherish them more, giving them respect and recognising that they still have stories to tell.

Irene Brownlee