If the choice was to slowly succumb to a debilitating and fatal disease such as Alzheimers or have your brain repaired but lose up to 15 years of your memories what would you do? If you were married to the person making that choice and your wife would unlikely remember you afterwards would you encourage them to have the operation?
At the beginning of the play we see the aftermath of that decision. Zoe Wanamaker's character has had the treatment and no longer recognises or remembers her wife (Barbara Flynn) and her doctor (Nina Sosanya) is trying to assist them both. Subsequent scenes, like snatches of memory, reveal what life was like before the operation and the lead up to the decision.
Set in the future Nick Payne imagines a set of new human conditions and dilemmas as the result of medical advances. The doctor represents the science side of the equation. She has problems explaining things without using medical terminology and also has problems with the emotional aspects of the procedure. The human dilemma, a loss of identity, a loss of a loved one mentally but not physically, the debate about whether it is the right answer to the medical condition comes through the story of the married women.
Zoe Wanamaker and Barbara Flynn make a lovely, lovely couple, the sort of couple you would want to be in the company of and this is the beating heart of the play, this is it soul what makes it so devastating. In fact it is almost cruel that Nick Payne shows us what is going to happen first. But there is cruelty too in the debilitating disease she already has, you see her as the fog descends and she loses her train of thought or memory of what she was about to do.
Elegy doesn't have the same punch as Constellations but is nonetheless an interesting, thought-provoking and emotionally charged piece. And the bonus is, it refreshingly smashes the criteria to pass the Bechdel test. I'm giving it four stars.
It is 70 minutes without an interval and is on at the Donmar Warehouse until June 18.
Other Nick Payne plays I've seen:
Constellations (original production with Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall, Royal Court upstairs)
Constellations (West End transfer)
Constellations (Louise Brealey and Joe Armstrong, Trafalgar Studios)
Incognito (Bush Theatre)
The Art of Dying (Royal Court)
Same Deep Water As Me (Donmar Warehouse)