A Month of Sundays is one of those shows that is simultaneously unique and yet familiar. It’s unique in that it tells a particular story that, thanks to its intricate details, isn’t entirely like any other, and familiar in that its themes have been explored before in miscellaneous ways. Old age and senility is a subject that the show’s programme attributes to going back as far as Shakespeare’s King Lear (1603), but the comical and gently mocking nature of Bob Larbey’s play is somewhat closer to the portrayal of Sir Januarie [sic] in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Merchant’s Tale (1478) than the Bard’s tragedy, at least in tone and sentiment. And then, of course, there’s Florian Zeller’s The Father (2012), in which the central character is cared for at home.
Here, Cooper (William Hoyland) acts as both engaged narrator and variously disengaged resident in a retirement home. I did wonder if a situation arose where a line or two was missed or muddled by either Cooper or his housemate Aylott (Robin Hooper) what impact it would have on the play. I suspect the result would be positive, at least in the sense that the audience would be unlikely to notice, and I am quite sure it would paradoxically add to the humour of the play. This is, after all, a place where people “join the zombies” as Cooper so irreverently puts it.
As far as I am able to deduce, nobody did fluff their lines, and despite all the punchlines – not all of which landed as well as they might have done – weightier matters are treated with more sensitivity than I expected. The style of humour, although sometimes acerbic (and occasionally implausibly so for people supposedly unable to look after themselves), is, between the lines, generally very positive about older people. Encouraging, even.
It is, however, a tad repetitive, and we quickly understand Cooper’s physical limitations whilst continuing to see him shuffling around the room, again and again and again. It is a statement in itself, a sort of gratifying defiance against care assistant Wilson (Anna Leon Brophy), who has advised plenty of rest. But some of the funniest moments are in dialogues between Cooper and down-to-earth cleaner Baker (Connie Walker). Elsewhere, there’s an audible gasp from the audience in response to Cooper’s daughter Julia (Sophie Russell) revealing her true feelings – always a good sign of impeccably powerful acting. There are many who can relate in some way to her and her husband Peter (Gareth Clarke) as they grapple with the complications and awkwardness that arise when visiting an elderly and infirm family member.