Nothing is sacred from health and safety checks in this surreal production by Spoken Mirror at the Rosemary Branch theatre, featuring a headache-prone devil, two squabbling sisters and an out-of-shape wolf played by Cressida Bonas.
Inspired by playwright Tallulah Brown’s four months working with Mira Hamermesh towards the end of the Polish filmmaker’s life, the Lily Ashley-directed play flits between a bland, uncompromising care home and the wooded mental refuge of the ageing Kazek, with songs delivered by Kazek’s daughters and a clutch of unseen sirens.
“I want to die…let me die!” utters Kazek at the outset, played with tremulous, stubborn vulnerability by Zoe Stevens. To the audience’s relief, the statement does not trigger a play-long debate on life versus death, but rather a thoughtful meditation on memory, story-telling and making amends.
Kazek’s carer (significantly named just ‘Nurse’), is executed with wonderful impassivity by Tara Postma and provides necessary injections of humour into the narrative. Her straight-laced and unsympathetic – though not unkind – method of care is sharply contrasted to Kazek’s daughters emotional coming-to-terms with their father’s ageing process.
Esme (played with wide-eyed impetuosity by Florence Keith-Roach) is the idealistic daughter, excellent with their father but absent when it comes to the gruelling practicalities of his decline – which her more pragmatic sister Mari (Zena Carswell) has to take on. Brown deftly describes the fraught sibling interplay, universal to those who have had to deal with poorly parents.
There’s A Monster In The Lake is perhaps most poignant when highlighting the helplessness felt by those faced with the impending death of themselves or loved ones. “He’s my dad, not my child!” Mari says sharply to Nurse. The hints that Kazek was not always the perfect father also combat the romanticisation of the father-child role and add depth to the fantasy-fuelled vignettes.
The care home scenes are the best drawn, but the woods also have a charm, with Cressida Bonas playing a sprightly, health-and-safety-obsessed wolf, springing across the stage with alacrity, whilst the lecherous, maladied devil (Hugo Nicholson) nuisances his way through the dark undergrowth.
A child-like wistfulness persists throughout the play, a thread of fantasy and hope which challenges the idea of age equating to wisdom, and sensitively explores what it means to care and be cared for.
There’s A Monster in the Lake is at the Rosemary Branch theatre, Shepperton Road, N1 3DT until 19 July.