Liz Dixon and The Lowry
The Lowry, Salford
01 February 2018 to 02 February 2018
In Sam Brady’s new play Things I Say When I Don't Say I Love You Tommy responds to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s by slipping into depression and losing interest in the wider world. His son Ian hopes that helping to restore a 1967 Spitfire racing car will help Tommy regain his interest in life but the work is harder than anticipated and Ian has to ask his own son Scott to help. However, old resentments are never far from the surface as neither Tommy, nor Ian, is a model father and both are disappointed in their sons.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Ian as he struggles to adrress issues that have been left unresolved for too long. The title of the play suggests that it might cover topics like the difficulty men encounter when trying to articulate their feelings. The willingness of the author to opt for a good joke, rather than analytical speeches, might be a reflection of this theme but otherwise the play is closer to a domestic comedy/drama than to a study of male insecurities and the impact of mental illness. The plot is conventional to the extent that there are few surprise twists along the journey undertaken by the characters.
Sam Brady, the author and sole performer, has a background in stand-up comedy. Director Hannah Banister exploits this experience to great effect so that, despite the grim background of the story, Things I Say When I Don't Say I Love You is stuffed full of laughs. One might expect a stand-up comedian to be able to devise some decent verbal gags and this is definitely the case, but Banister also draws out Brady’s skill as a physical humourist with unexpected bursts of Salsa dancing and exaggerated, mimed car repairs.
Underlying the humour, however, there remains a sense of loss and anger at the indignity experienced by people suffering from dementia. Faced with condescension Tommy responds: ‘ I have a progressive, terminal brain disease. I’m not a dickhead.’
However, Brady’s strength is also his weakness. As a performer, he seems more comfortable addressing the audience directly in the manner of a stand-up than in creating the different characters on stage. Brady does not use vocal variation or changes in physical posture to suggest the different characters, so they all tend to sound and behave the same regardless of age or health.
Things I Say When I Don't Say I Love You is a surprisingly funny examination of a very dark subject, but the sketchy development of the characters on-stage limits emotional involvement.
Reviewer: David Cunningham