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Phil Hopkins
Arts & Travel Editor
@philhopkinsuk
12:00 PM 12th May 2022
arts

Sensitive, Hilarious & Emotional – Poet’s Take On Dementia

Tony Timberlake (Gordon) and Eithne Browne (Maggie) in Maggie May at Leeds Playhouse. Photography by Zoe Martin
Tony Timberlake (Gordon) and Eithne Browne (Maggie) in Maggie May at Leeds Playhouse. Photography by Zoe Martin
Playwright, Frances Poet, has a wonderful ear for northern dialogue that translates beautifully to her latest play, Maggie May: a caring, humorous and emotionally heart-wrenching take on dementia.

My dad suffered from the same affliction but, despite the perceived tragedy of this ‘disease’, we once found ourselves rolling in the aisles at ‘Jimmy’s’ hospital after he dramatically shouted ‘duck’; we all did. “My God,” he said, “that train just missed you!” Seconds later, ‘normality’ returned!

And that is dementia, so beautifully articulated by this Yorkshire lass – now resident in Scotland but clearly still bonded to her East Riding roots.

Her play – full to the brim with Alan Bennett style humour: dead pan, blunt, straight-faced, uniquely Yorkshire and, frankly, hilarious in parts, is also sensitive in that it draws in the audience with lots of Act One laughs, before changing the pace and tone to pull on the heart strings with a more serious message. It strikes the perfect balance.
Eithne Browne (Maggie) and Maxine Finch (Jo) in Maggie May at Leeds Playhouse. Photography by Zoe Martin
Eithne Browne (Maggie) and Maxine Finch (Jo) in Maggie May at Leeds Playhouse. Photography by Zoe Martin

Maggie is the main protagonist who becomes increasingly forgetful while hubby and stroke victim Gordon, still fully in charge of his faculties, is the caring partner who keeps re-connecting his failing wife with the real world through their common love of music.

As she starts to disappear into a land of confusion and fear, he pulls her back with musical memories and, together they are able to sing and dance their return to momentary normality.

As Rod Stewart’s Maggie May permeates the air, Maggie, brilliantly played by Eithne Browne, wafts in and out of her alternative world surrounded by music, confusion and those she loves but sometimes fails to recognise.

Her son Michael (Mark Holgate) is a down-to-earth working class tradesman: ill-equipped to cope with change but forced to review his dogmatic approach to life.
Shireen Farkhoy (Claire) and Mark Holgate (Michael) in Maggie May at Leeds Playhouse. Photography by Zoe Martin
Shireen Farkhoy (Claire) and Mark Holgate (Michael) in Maggie May at Leeds Playhouse. Photography by Zoe Martin

Who am I? As Maggie moves between her ‘normal’ self and her strange new netherworld, beset with shadowy ghosts, this universal question comes to the fore time and again proving, if proof were needed, that this is a play that will travel to any place on earth despite its Yorkshire origins. It speaks to every generation.

This was an excellent ‘five-hander’ with brilliant performances. Tony Timberlake as hubby Gordon was lovable and Maxine Finch as best friend Jo wonderfully blunt and hilarious, whilst Shireen Farkhoy as Michael’s girlfriend Claire, was the glue that somehow held the family together.

I genuinely loved this caring, full of hope play and cannot recommend it enough. Crammed with Northern humour that Les Dawson would have been proud of, it is also sensitive, powerful and worthy of even bigger audiences. Go!

Maggie May,
Leeds Playhouse
Until May 21st