Review: Moments That Changed Our World at the Royal Exchange Theatre

Guest review by Aleks Anders

The Royal Exchange Elders, a group of keen theatre-going amateurs over the age of 60 who attend weekly sessions at The Royal Exchange, have put together this quite extraordinary and quirky piece of theatre which celebrates age. With some pathos each of the 11 strong cast – including a couple of recorded stories from other members – tells us the moments in their lives which shaped them, changed them and made them the person they are today.

The stories intertwine, and the chronology is lost after the first sentence, but somehow this doesn’t matter. There is humour, bonhomie, and a sense of fellowship amongst the cast that one seldom sees, or at least is aware of, amongst professional actors.

Though entitled rather grandiosely as Moments That Changed Our World, the large global political or geographical events which can and do shape many peoples’ lives are in short supply in this one hour long celebration of the third age of mankind. Instead it focuses on the smaller and more personal instances which affect the individuals in their own special ways. Becoming an actress and receiving her first applause; being homosexual at a time when it was illegal and offensive; turning 60; the joys and dangers of computer technology; a divorce.

The stage is set with audience on two opposing sides whilst the other sides of the rectangle are used as a screen to project film, photos and other footage to exemplify and augment the narrative. The space is intimate, and when not acting, the cast sit on the front row; but the staging is far from optimal. End on would have worked much better.

There are darker and more serious moments aplenty too. A young black lady coming over to work for the NHS, and finding our island cold, unwelcoming, insular and above all, intolerant and racist (so, nothing has changed then??!!); another lady in her youth fighting for Women’s Lib and equality (and still nothing has changed!); whilst an ardent CND campaigner tells of his moments in rallies, and asks if in reality, his campaigning has actually amounted to anything changing on a global scale.

With group hugs and plenty of friendly encouragement, these tales are spoken about with a hint of nostalgia, but with a huge zeal and zest for life. And hooray to that!

As the final lines of the play ring out… “Time is not on our side, so let’s live for today; and tomorrow I will… tomorrow I will wake with a smile and be grateful. I WILL!”

Directed by The Elders’ Company leader Andrew Barry, and created by him and the company through workshops and devising, the 11 members telling their moments on stage are Sheila Colman, Christine Connor, Gordon Emerson, Graham Gillis, Brenda Hickey, Christopher Littler, Jacquie Lang, Estelle Longmore, Don McGregor, Glyn Treharne, and Kenneth Walker. Well done to all of you, it’s a wonderful idea, bravely and sensitively told, and since “it’s easy to stop playing as you get older” – please, don’t stop!

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