★★★★☆ | Royal Court
Plaques and Tangles, a play about three generations of a family blighted by Alzheimer’s, wears its weighty subject remarkably lightly. It circles with the grace of a featherweight boxer, throwing occasional jabs, ducking and weaving, waiting until your guard is down before hitting home its crushing, terrifically sad finishing blow.
It follows Megan, a middle-aged mother whose early onset form of the disease is an increasingly malign presence in the family home. She is introduced as a bright young woman grappling with the burden of knowing she may one day follow her mother’s footsteps into dementia. The play jolts back and forth in time, Megan’s condition gradually worsening, her family increasingly desperate.
The disease is used to explore issues of identity and the subjectivity of memory, highlighting the existential crisis facing Alzheimer’s sufferers: if I can’t remember my past, am I still the same person? The structure is fragmented, with the audience thrust into the middle of scenes and left to work out what’s going on. As Megan’s condition worsens a tinnitus-like buzz enfolds the theatre and a tangle of neon tubes writhes and flashes overhead.
But for all its stylistic flair, it’s the moments of familial intimacy, all exceptionally acted, that hit the hardest.