This review was originally written for The Public Review.
Tea with Mamgu (pronounced Mam-gee) is a comedy set in Wales and is structured around the dementia-suffering Jenni who is helped by her grandson, Dylan Jr in moving to a home. The play jumps back and forth through time, the first part of which finds Jenni chatting with two of her old friends in a cafe. Then it goes back in time to when Jenni met her husband, Dylan Snr and jumps back to the present day. This clever device of back and forth in time, mirrors what is happening with her failing memory and the confusion reflects her state of mind.
There are plenty of dirty gags and innuendos about packages and washing machines when Jenni chats with her friends. This fits in rather well with the mainly conversational style of the play and its emphasis on the mundane such as discussion of the aesthetic of the newly built bypass and such like. Even though the ladies’ chat over tea occasionally strays into political beliefs and ends with one or two heated discussions, their deely underlying friendship shows through. The scenes with Jenni and her grandson also underline the experience of caring for a dementia patient and the frustration involved.
Although its accent and references are set in Wales, the play has a universal commonality to it. The slight downside of the play is that it is not terribly insightful, it chooses to make its point in an oblique way and the triviality of the conversation may not be terribly interesting at times. Also, there is a sudden heavy handedness in the handling of the final scene which may have avoided sentimentality but in doing so loses some of its emotional power.
The performance of Elizabeth Hastings as Jinny has a real maturity about it without taking it too seriously. Chris Walters as Dylan Jr/Snr is great and has the right mix of concern and frustration. The roles of the old ladies are played capably by young actors Emily Wilden and Ceri Wyn. This may seem odd at first but it illustrates the confusion of mind and memories. The youthfulness of the cast also adds to the feistiness in their discussions and works rather well.
The direction, by David Evans, managed the level of hysterics well as it could have drifted into a pantomime. Evans also managed the performance and avoided the pitfall of overplaying the age. The production has a certain charm to it. The unevenness of pace and intensity in some ways plays to advantage in highlighting the issue of a confused state of mind. It is an occasionally funny and enjoyable evening of Welshness and a good attempt to illustrate the effects of dementia without becoming overly sentimental and serious about it.