Still Alice: Revealing what we all need most to live

Poignant play ‘Still Alice’, adapted by Christine Mary Dunford leaves its mark on Kings Theatre audiences.

We all know what it is like to converse with ourselves, reacting and answering ourselves like our mind is another person. In “Still Alice”, this is exactly what Harvard professor Alice Howland finds herself doing. Except in her case her mind is personified, on stage alongside her, for the audience to watch and hear. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 50, Alice begins to lose grasp of the life she truly loves. Directed by David Grindley and newly adapted by Christine Mary Dunford from the original novel, the play is raw and emotional.

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Sharon Small as Professor Alice Howland

What binds the show together is Sharon Small’s portrayal of Alice. What we see, over the 90 minutes of the play’s duration, is a woman disappearing before our very eyes. Both her physical and mental decline is authentically done using stage effects and complex make-up – as well as Small’s superb acting. So unapologetically emotive is Small’s performance that one finds themselves happy to be reminded it isn’t real as the cast take their bows at the end. By Alice’s side throughout is the physical embodiment of her mind, portrayed by Eva Pope. Her mind is both her best friend and her worst enemy – a feeling we all know. One minute her mind is encouraging and caring. The next, it is hiding her phone in the freezer.

While living with Alzheimer’s is not something everyone in the audience can relate to, most can easily relate to the tempestuous nature of family life. Alice’s family struggles are what most links the audience to her: a husband (Martin Marquez) whose life is only getting better while she is left behind. A daughter (Ruth Ollman) whose attitudes and lifestyle cause only confrontation. A son (Mark Armstrong) whose children will never experience the real Alice Howland.

Of course, due to the main thread running through the play – Alice’s worsening mental state – all of these complex and intense relationships begin to fade away from Alice’s mind. This decline continues to the point where she is unable to articulate how she feels by the end of the play. The light in this dark finale is Alice’s realisation that her daughter’s playful and whimsical nature is exactly what she needs. A relationship that was once so cold becomes warmer than ever.

Also reflecting Alice’s destitute mind is the set on stage. What starts as a vast and busy production becomes minimal and unexciting, mirroring Alice’s dwindling train of thought. The audience is left pondering upon the memories of their own lives as the play comes to an end. “Emotions happen when you can’t get what you need most to live” – for Alice, her needs are her words and her memories, things which are vital to all of us while we navigate through life. Overall, this is a good play, made fantastic by talented actors and fascinating stage design. A drama that is well worth going to see.  

‘Still Alice’ returns to Scotland at the Theatre Royal Glasgow from the 13th- 17th November. Get your tickets here https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/still-alice/theatre-royal-glasgow/

By Emily Hewitt

Photo credited to Geraint Lewis

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