I saw Cinage’s Talkin’ About My Generation during the Edinburgh Fringe. It was performed in the Leeds Beckett room as part of an exhibition of the Richard Demarco archive to celebrate 70 years of the fringe. Many of the cast of Talkin’ celebrated their own 70th birthdays a fair while ago and the rest won’t have too long to wait before doing so. Demarco (himself well into the ‘third age’) was present at the event and speaking afterwards picked up on statistics cited in the show which indicate that the UK’s population is rapidly becoming dominated by people over 40. Yet he also referred to the “unique” nature of this show at the Fringe where the vast majority of performers tend overwhelming to be under 30.
There are some long established and celebrated performance companies where members are in now their 50s (Forced Entertainment) and 70s (Split Britches).Yet, it is still rare to see shows devised by older people, outside of ‘community’ or ‘applied theatre’ settings. As Demarco was indicating this makes Talkin’ an important piece at a time when demographic shifts suggest that to survive for another 70 years of the Fringe will have to embrace wider and longer perspectives on its stages.
What makes Talkin’ an even more important piece is the way it exploded many persistent stereotypes about age and aging, too often represented as a narrative of loss and debility, as so famously depicted by Jacques ‘All The World’s a Stage/Seven Ages’ speech from As You Like It. This speech provides a loose structure for the show but rather than the dire image of the ‘seventh age’ painted by Shakespeare, we were presented with a diverse group of confident and articulate people who scorn the idea that they have in any way ‘retired’. All of them offer examples of busy and fulfilling lives and engagement with a wide range of activities from political activism to palmistry, academic research into aging to knitting, keep fit to singing and lots more. They all also reflect on the importance of continuing to learn and to change, and as part of this the show explored (and to an extent exploded) the so-called ‘generational divide’ over Brexit in the UK, rehearsing a wide variety of views on this issue.
Yet what is most striking of all about Talkin’ as a performance is the way, director Teresa Brayshaw has given its cast time and space, in all senses of these terms. This was a piece that refuses to hurry or be hurried, refuses to bend to the theatrical imperative to create the illusion of a flawless event. Instead, it embraces the different ways that the years have marked these particular bodies and minds, allowing for stiff legs and overburdened memories and as a result has the patient and considered rhythm born of experience. This allows the performers to build direct and personal connection with its audience, something heightened by the intimate scale of the room with its walls covered in ephemera documenting Fringes past. In many ways of all the shows I saw at the Fringe, Talkin’ seemed one of the most truly ‘experimental’ -a genuine piece of live art not just for but created in conjunction with its audience.
Yet the piece did not dodge some of the grimmer realities of aging. Towards the end in a powerful dramatic moment, it presented us with the spectre of dementia literally knocking at the door. The performers left the space together singing and the sound became fainter as they passed down the corridor until it was just an echo, a trace, part of the archive as a space of memory that is never complete, never perfect but nevertheless shapes the future as well as the past.