Happy Birthday Dear Alice

As the population ages and people live longer, the issue of nursing care becomes a top priority. Author Bernard Farrell mentions in the preface to this play- first seen in 1994- that his own experience of having elderly parents informed his perspective here as the main character tries to outwit her relatives' attempts to move her to a nursing home.

Trying to sugar the reality of a new life of restriction with anodyne names like Chestnut or Daffodil, Alice's family want to escape the burden of filial responsibility by entrusting her twilight years to a professional institution but the staunchly independent Alice (Caroline John) has other ideas.

Widowed after a mysterious accident that involved a bull, Alice finds that her birthday becomes a domestic battleground as the family descend upon her, increasingly resolved to move her to a home forthwith and only her resourcefulness and the friendship of neighbour Jimmy hold this intimidating prospect at bay.

Without doubt the Orange Tree's artistic director Sam Walters is right in commenting that the subject of nursing care is destined to become a contentious issue for the twenty-first century and it's good to see that a debate on the subject is being held at the theatre in association with the play.

Unfortunately, though worthy, this contemporary comedy (the latest co-production with the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough) fails to really engage or amuse and despite a few nice touches - like the evolving relationship between Alice and Jimmy and the scene where Jimmy lies hidden in the kitchen cupboard - it's all highly predictable fare that needs a sharper script to succeed.

(Amanda Hodges)

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