Yielding & Big Horn | Crying Chair Theatre

Image by Andrea Mudbidri

Ageing is a great privilege for those who get the chance but that doesn’t make it easy. Ill health, loneliness, and loss of autonomy are just some of the difficult issues to navigate in old age. In this double bill from Crying Chair Theatre, two families face great changes and must reconcile their past years with those ahead.

Two years ago Dot (Tricia Youlden) had a stroke that left her unable to care for herself, so her daughter Liz (Emma Dalton) has stepped in to be her full time carer. In Emma Workman’s short script, the two women struggle to communicate with each other as they both monologue their thoughts to unhearing ears. They want what’s best for each other but also relief for themselves and these desires conflict, leaving them stuck on how to move forward.

The direction from Richard Cotter captured the frustration of these women’s lives and the bottled-up resentment they feel for how things have gone. Allan Walpole’s set design was dark and moody with an abstract painting as the backdrop which mirrored the murky, shadowed relationship between Liz and Dot.

Youlden’s Dot was worn-out and angry but her hard words hide her grief; grief for her lost independence and grief for her daughter’s time spent caring for her instead of pursuing a career and building her family. Youlden offered an honest, if spiky, portrayal of the simply unpleasant side of ageing, where one’s world seems to shrink in on itself and the many possibilities dim into harsh reality. On the other hand, Dalton’s Liz seemed to have already embraced a quiet, contained life even as she lamented her exhaustion. Against Dot’s slow decline, Dalton was racing through her emotions, frequently arguing with herself in an attempt to do the right thing. The frustration the two women felt easily leaked into the audience as they repeatedly failed to truely listen to each other.

While the two women weighed up notions of burden, obligation, care, and relief, Dot offered a solution that Liz finds unfathomable. So relief continued to elude them both and they plod onwards anyway.

Image by Andrea Mudbidri

In Big Horn, another family collides over how to best care for Ray (Richard Cotter) as he grows older alone in his decaying family home. Daughter-in-law Cate (Mel Day) thinks he would be more comfortable in a care home and insists on his constant supervision under Max (Eloise Martin-Jones), but Ray thinks he’s doing just fine and want to maintain his independence, including continuing his secret trumpet practises with friend Sioux (Emma Dalton).

Paired with Yielding, Paul Rogers’s script also explores the negative sides of ageing and the many losses one suffers, including the loss of loved ones. Cate and Ray don’t see eye-to-eye but their arguments are also tinted by grief for the death of Ray’s son, which is hinted to have been suicide. Here, Ray’s resentment makes him cling to the past, seeing visions of his wife, and refusing to acknowledge his need for care. At the same time, Cate refuses to engage with Ray’s wants and instead foists her own visions of old age onto him.

Tricia Youlden’s direction focused on the relationship between Cate and Ray, a relationship complicated by history and regret but, similar to Yielding, aggravated by the characters’ refusal to hear each other. Day’s Cate was headstrong and dismissive; even as she tried to care for Ray, she struggled to consider his needs as equal to her own. But Cotter’s characterisation of Ray wasn’t helping matters with his provocative, needling ways. The addition of Sioux and Max added weight to Cate and Ray’s threats but also muddled the message of the play with their rather opaque characterisations.

While exploring the difficult circumstances of two families, Yielding and Big Horn illustrate the growing divide between generations when ageing parents are viewed as burdensome and not part of the nuclear family unit. The two productions take an empathetic look at all concerned but still strongly advocate for care, consideration, and compassion for older people struggling with loss. After the devastating results of the Royal Commission into Aged Care in February 2021 and the unbelievable loss of life in Victorian aged care homes during COVID-19 outbreaks in 2020, it’s hard not to see these as deadly consequences of the narratives we perpetuate around old age and the elderly.

Yielding & Big Horn are running at Flight Path Theatre from May 26th – June 6th

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