Paradise review at Hampstead Theatre, London – ‘a meandering comedy’
Elite Homes is the current residence of Roddy Meakin (Geoffrey Freshwater) and Amanda Goose (Sara Kestelman), two retirees who enjoy a cheeky gin – or three – under the hanging baskets and jokes about the sex life of spiders.
Directed by Alice Hamilton, Dusty Hughes’ new play meanders through the daily meetings between the elderly residents and the dwelling’s employees: the thoroughly loveable carer Sam (Rebekah Hinds) and the not-so-loveable new manager Kim (Claire Lams).
Kestelman and Hinds do their best with an often very slight script. For a comedy, there are very few genuine laughs, but thanks to the skilled cast there are a few brief moments that capture the frequent sadness of growing old, particularly in a society that patronises and belittles the elderly.
Anna Reid’s Arcadian set design has the characters trapped in a facsimile of the English walled garden. They perch on wicker chairs, water terracotta pots of asters and recline beneath trailing ivy. Yet the whole thing maintains the appearance of being one-step-removed from reality. Perhaps that’s deliberate, to suggest this fragile Eden is always part-fantasy.
Hughes does his best to humanise both carers and cared-for. The financial reality of running a care facility has to fall on someone and the incoming boss is just a puppet for the Board’s wishes.
But Paradise never amounts to all that much. The parts that should feel tense – Amanda’s temporary disappearance and potential rehoming – drift by without making any real impact. It’s pleasant enough, but more than a little underwhelming.