Still Alice arrived at the Theatre Royal last week, a stage adaptation of the novel by Lisa Genova and 2014 Oscar nominated film starring Julianne Moore. The heart-breaking tale stars well known television star Sharon Small as Alice Howland – a highly respected and renowned Harvard professor who is married to fellow scientist John Howland enjoying her successful life alongside her lawyer son Thomas and her more free spirited daughter Lydia who dreams of making a career as an actress. As Alice approaches 50 she starts to become more absent minded – forgetting simple things and getting easily confused. At first she believes it may be a symptom of menopause before further medical investigations show something much more sinister at play.
The emotional rollercoaster unfolds over a one act 90 minute production as Alice and her family come to terms with her ever deteriorating battle with early on-set dementia. This difficult topic is dealt with sensitively and shines a light on the effect this illness has on a person’s humanity and identity as well as touching on the grief and loss experienced by friends and family. Wendy Mitchell who lives with dementia was a consultant for the production which is clear in terms of the depth of the topic highlighted in the show and the focus on the personal experience and grief suffered by Alice as she comes to terms with her condition.
Sharon Small delivers an incredibly touching and heart-breaking performance as Alice, and is to be commended for her effortless yet gradual transition from a powerful, clever and successful academic to a vulnerable, afraid woman desperate to cling on to her memories. She is accompanied by Eva Pope who plays “Herself” and the pair interweave the plot with a running dialogue between Alice and her mind which can be heard by the audience yet not other characters on stage. This allows us a deeper insight into the most inner thoughts and worries of Alice as her condition worsens and her fear of “losing her mind” becomes ever closer.
The play focuses more on the subject matter rather than emotionally charged scenes around the repercussion on relationships and family life. However the story could have developed more on Alice’s relationship with her children as they struggle to cope with their grief and Alice’s husbands guilt and strife as he tries to balance progressing his career with caring for his wife. The script only really scratches the surface of these issues before moving on which leaves the actors with little room to develop the emotion and heartstring-tugging moments. That said, there are still some tear jerking moments such as Alice forgetting where the bathroom is in her own home and forgetting who her daughter is moments after she makes her career debut which drive home the reality of the pain of this illness.
Overall the play moves at a fast pace to keep the audience engaged and doesn’t over-play the more emotionally charged moments. The story ends with a beautifully delivered speech by Alice which is inspiring if not heart wrenching at the same time. A thought provoking play that is a must see.