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Plaques and Tangles at the Royal Court review – ‘a bit of a jumble’

Ferdy Roberts, Monica Dolan. Alice Feldgate and Ted Reilly in Plaques and Tangles at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs Ferdy Roberts, Monica Dolan. Alice Feldgate and Ted Reilly in Plaques and Tangles at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs

The idea of watching someone you love slowly eroded by dementia is a deeply emotive one, but Nicola Wilson’s debut play for the Royal Court is heavy-handed in the way it tackles it.

At time it feels like a strange kind of mating between Florian Zeller’s The Father and Nick Payne’s Constellations – Andrew D Edmunds’ set design, with its flickering neon cumulonimbus certainly calls to mind the latter – but both those, if faintly over-praised, were well-calibrated pieces of writing, while this is a bit of a jumble, the kind of play that wants to have its metaphor and eat it.

The day before her wedding Megan discovers that she may carry the gene for early-onset Alzheimer’s and, that like her mother before her she could lose her memory, her capacity for language, and all the things that make her who she is, before she is 50. But while Megan’s gradual aphasic unlacing is genuinely moving in places, if only because the play insists so heavily on it, some odd choices have been made here.

Monica Dolan and Rosalind Eleazar play Megan at different points in her life but there’s little sense of continuum between them and Wilson also has a habit of stacking tragedy upon tragedy like a series of Lego blocks, as if Megan’s diagnosis and its consequences for her, her husband, and her children, were not enough to sustain things. The effect feels bludgeoning: Wilson makes Megan a lexicographer, as well as a dab hand at Scrabble, before her inevitable unwording.

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A blunt attempt to explore the emotional impact of early-onset Alzheimer’s