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Visitors review at Oldham Coliseum Theatre – ‘lovingly crafted’

Robin Herford and Liz Crowther in Visitors at Oldham Coliseum. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes

First seen at London’s Arcola Theatre in 2014, Barney Norris’ play about a couple facing up to the fact that they can no longer stay in the house they’ve lived together in for more than 50 years won him a Critics’ Circle Theatre award for most promising playwright.

While it contains little in the way of earth-shattering insight or dramatic revelations, Norris’ acute ear for dialogue and adept character touches – inspired by his own grandparents – build to a touchingly rendered portrait of life-long love. Any sentimentality is tempered by a painfully accurate depiction of the tough choices faced by those caring for elderly loved ones, especially ones that come as a pair.

How Arthur and Edie playfully bicker, fuss over and look out for each other couldn’t feel more real, aided by assured performances from Robin Herford and Liz Crowther. Bolstered by Chris Lawson’s fluid direction, and despite the play’s more floridly verbose sections, their relationship seems as authentic as Sammy Dowson’s knick-knack-cluttered, lived-in front room set.

A narrative strand in which a free-spirited 20-something arrives as a live-in carer and then objects to the plans put in place for the couple rings less true, despite the efforts of Kitty Douglas breathing life into an underwritten role.

But the play is shifted up a gear by the presence of son Stephen – played with twitchy awkwardness by Ben Porter – who feels compelled to visit but is never made to feel completely welcome, as well as other quietly devastating moments, such as Edie’s realisation that the couple will never go on another holiday together.

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Sensitive revival of Barney Norris' lovingly crafted exploration of enduring love and the difficult realities of old age