“The Almond And The Seahorse”
“If we can get hit on the head and become a different person, what does that tell us about being human?” This is the central question raised by Kaite O’Reilly’s play “The Almond And The Seahorse”, the new production from Sherman Cymru, Cardiff (I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to a preview performance), which tells the story of four people whose relationships are adversely affected by memory loss caused by brain injury. Thus there’s the younger couple, played by Nia Gwynne and Celyn Jones, the male half of which has suffered a brain tumour, and is consequently locked into a constant present; and the older couple, Ian Saynor and Olwen Rees – she went through a windscreen, and is now stuck in the past, to the point of no longer recognising her husband. Given the raw material, it would be easy for a writer to succumb to mawkishness, but O’Reilly manages to avoid this by focussing on the wittiness of the banter between the younger pair, and on the older man’s bitterness. Mojisola Adebayo plays the doctor who watches over both couples, and ruminates on their problems, never letting her professional facade drop, at least in their presence. From the programme, I gathered that the director, Philip Zarilli is more at home with experimental theatre, and his non-literal approach works well - the set is spare and evocative, and there is very good use of onstage subtitling. Some of the poetic dialogue - the sufferers use metaphor to describe their plight - wafted over my head, but this is a fault with my brain rather than the writing. The scene in which the younger man, severely impaired but not realising it, has to juggle multiple alarms, his pill-box, a packet of cigarettes and a telephone is brilliantly realised; and while the need to provide a narrative means that melodrama threatens to appear on the horizon, the ending is mercifully merciless. Heartbreaking, for all the right reasons.