David Hendon’s Banana Crabtree Simon at the Drayton Arms Theatre, is a brave and thoroughly revealing insight in to the life of a dementia sufferer, bringing right to the fore all of the heartache which accompanies the disease.
You know that fleeting sensation when you temporarily forget which day of the week it is, or can’t find the word that sits right on the tip of your tongue? That moment of frustration, or confusion is the constant struggle of the dementia sufferer, and only with the misfortune of witnessing it first-hand can anyone truly appreciate the agony it brings.
Banana. Crabtree. Simon. The words that Alan must remember, because remembering these specific words, in that order, means he has not yet gone “doolally”. It will be no great plot spoiler to reveal that his ability to recall the trio of words becomes more difficult as the play progresses, Alan has dementia and this one-hander expertly captures the fallout of a diagnosis, not just on the individual but the loved ones around him as well.
David Hendon is an incredibly talented writer, and he does not disappoint with this monologue. Rather than try and write a character which embodies a holistic experience of dementia, he has instead focussed on a set of circumstances that are very personal and unique to Alan, the individual. The result is that by the end of the hour, it feels like it’s an old friend you are watching fade away, regressing to childhood.
But it’s not just the impact on Alan that we feel, Hendon’s Banana Crabtree Simon allows us to witness the turmoil faced by family members, without any of them ever setting foot on stage. It’s through Alan’s rich and descriptive monologue, beautifully directed by Dan Phillips, that an entire family unit, along with their fears and frustrations, are laid bare for us all to see.
Alan is quite good at pub quizzes and can recite all the winners of the FA Cup Final since 1923. It feels like a bit of an inside joke, because Alan is played by CJ de Mooi, best known as one of the ‘Eggheads’ on the BBC quiz show, but the bravado of the cocky quizzer is no where to be seen here. He handles the performance beautifully, portraying a huge range of emotions in a very concise time frame.
There are subtle moments, barely mentioned, which as an audience you pick up on, in much the same way a concerned spouse may do. As Alan’s dementia hits that particularly cruel point – the point where he both remembers and forgets at the same time, you find yourself leaning forward in your seat, willing him to find the right words, and to show just a glimmer of the man who sat before us a mere thirty minutes ago.
Through a combination of the skilled writing from Hendon, and the finely tuned performance of CJ de Mooi, Banana Crabtree Simon becomes a deeply emotional production. With the number of dementia sufferers in the UK set to reach a million in the next two years, this timely play reveals the hidden struggle of those affected, in a way that could only be achieved by urgent and innovative theatre.