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The Almond and the Seahorse review at Sherman Cardiff

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The devastating effects brain injury can have on survivors and their loved ones are graphically rammed home in Kaite O’Reilly’s powerful new play. It makes for grim, disturbing, even harrowing viewing, as partners strive to cope with those so traumatised, whose loss of memory changes their personalities, isolating them, making them all but strangers.

Impressively researched, documentary in style, with the all too human heartaches exposed, this gritty, well-paced staging by Phillip Zarrilli needs no added theatricality to get across the sheer hurt and despair experienced.

Former plumber Joe (Celyn Jones) had a brain tumour removed two years ago, which has also taken away his short-term memory. His archaeologist partner Sarah (Nia Gwynne) strives to cope while holding down her demanding job. Pregnant Gwennan (Olwen Rees) crashed headfirst through a car windscreen 20 years ago with devastating results. Since then her husband carer (Ian Saynor) cannot break into her world of youthful recall where she no longer recognises anyone, not even her older self in the mirror. The neuropsychologist (Mojisola Adebayo) at the Respite centre the four attended does what she can to explain and encourage, though anything approaching recovery to normality is not on the agenda. Graveyard humour, poetic flights of fancy, intimate confessions, all help relieve the pervading atmosphere of frustration and desperation. The contrasts of mood and pace in the confrontations are beautifully handled, the sensitive ensemble work is quite superb. The unintrusive soundscape by Catherine Clissold-Jones contributes much, though the captions flagged up prove an unnecessary distraction. The effective set and costumes are designed by Fiona Watt. Lighting is by Ace McCarron. The tantalising title refers to the shapes of those sections of the brain responsible for memory and personality traits.

Production Information

Sherman, Cardiff, February 29-March 15, then touring until April 12

Kaite O’Reilly
Phillip Zarrilli
Sherman Cymru
Cast includes
Mojisola Adebayo, Ian Saynor, Nia Gwynne, Olwen Rees, Celyn Jones
Running time
1hr 40mins

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