I Shall Wear Purple – Grand Opera House – Review by Cathy Brown
Dates: Tue 26 February 2019 – Sat 02 March 2019
Rosemary Jenkinson and c21 Theatre Company’s fourth collaboration I Shall Wear Purple, explores how we see ourselves and how subsequently, we are seen.
Olive (Stella McCusker) is a feisty octogenarian who has moved into the Malinderry Care Home to appease her daughter rather than to please herself. Following an ‘age-rage’ incident with a Clown Doctor and some custard, she is no longer allowed to take part in group activities, instead she grudgingly has to attend a one-on-one session with Thomas – a perpetually cheerful art therapist, who has troubles of his own, mainly involving his inability to pay his rent. Can this unlikely pairing get along for long enough so that Olive can get out of the care home and Thomas can keep his job?
Rosemary Jenkinson’s lively, punchy script barrels along, following the growing relationship between the obstreperous Olive and the expressive Thomas. Jenkinson has a fantastic way with dialogue and humour and there are laughs here aplenty; from Olive calling her fellow residents The A-Team (‘Assholes and Alzheimer’s’) to Thomas misunderstanding a question about his use of bad language.
The play as a whole is well constructed and much more tightly plotted than it might first appear. The conceit of using a different art movement for each scene is a clever one, drawing out latent themes and ideas about the nature of self-exploration, while the Banksy-esque act of political art upon which the play pivots, underscores the idea that sometimes it is more important to do something than to do nothing.
Jenkinson often explores political ideas in her work, and here a sub-plot about arts funding cuts is well integrated and works within the confines of the play, however a #MeToo style strand about a dark secret in Olive’s past is less successful and could have been drawn out more.
Stella McCusker as Olive perfectly captures a woman whose protective hard shell has come to hide her true personality. There is, at times, a stiltedness to her dialogue, but she excels when expressing the true emotions of frustration at being stuck in the care home and the freedom she finds through her art. Patrick McBrearty meanwhile, infuses Thomas with a warmth and a wit through a relaxed and charismatic performance and together the pair create a believable friendship.
As Olive and Thomas come to know each other better, Jenkinson’s script and Stephen Kelly’s able direction highlight the commonalities between the two – the fact that they both feel trapped and both use drugs as a means to escape reality. If art is about truth as Thomas says, then both characters will have to face that truth before they can change anything about their lives.
The set is simple but effective – window frames, a doorframe and a back wall – however, the stage furniture is cluttered making for overly long and often unnecessary scene changes which slow the pace. Music, which comes mostly from Thomas’s mobile phone, is well chosen and is particularly emotive during the play’s final scenes, which feature some odd shifts in tone and are more meditative than cathartic.
Degas said ‘art is not what you see but what you make others see’ and the poignant ending leaves the audience with the heart-warming sight of two characters who have become different, better people, simply from being together.