OFS volunteer and reviewer Lucy saw Mrs Delgado in December 2021.

Did your GP send you text messages during the lockdowns? I kept getting these patronising ditties in which they informed me that those aged 18-29 were not adhering to the restrictions. The implication was that the under-thirties were breaking the rules, and many needless deaths were occurring as a result. 

It irked me a bit, even then. Wasn’t this a bit of an unfair generalisation? There were many young people shirking social distance, but what about the older generations? Weren’t a lot of them also fed up? Did being a certain age magically endow you with certain characteristics? Were all the youths irresponsible, and all the elderly uptight?

Mrs. Delgado (at the Old Fire Station, 6-21 December) examines these ideas by turning them on their head. Written by Mike Bartlett and directed by Claire Lizzimore, this sweetly subversive show is a Covid Christmas treat. 

Helen (Ellen Robertson) is in her thirties, alone and on edge. Her life thus far has been disappointing. She is living out the limitations of lockdown with rigid enthusiasm. ‘The Rules’ are paramount to Helen and as a result, her loneliness is so entrenched that she’s claiming lockdown is the ideal solution after all, for evermore, for everyone. (But she doesn’t believe that, not really.) Helen is in dire need of some intimacy. The imposed isolation means she is duty-bound (and therefore free) to distance and drown in media, junk food and ‘The Rules’.

Helen embodies an extreme on the spectrum of lockdown compliance. And in Helen’s ever-decreasing and distanced world, there is room for an increasing obsession: her neighbour across the road, Mrs. Delgado.

Mrs. Delgado is 87. Helen keeps reminding us that technically, she is in the most vulnerable category of those at risk of coronavirus complications. But this doesn’t hold her back from ‘reckless hugging’ and other such infringements upon ‘The Rules’. Her attitude to lockdown is lax, perhaps irresponsible, and in this she represents another extreme: those who didn’t distance all that much.

In the world of Mrs Delgado, young women pull their blinds in a bid to spy on neighbours while the elderly throw parties and make cakes containing peas.

Robertson’s performance is flawless. Unbelievably, she had only begun rehearsing two days before the first performance. Because of this, earlier performances were adjusted to allow her to be ‘on book’. But it worked wonderfully within the one-person, story telling nature of the piece. By my second viewing (15 December), she was somehow (supernaturally, surely) off-book.

While the first performance was stunning, the second was indescribable.

It is a show that you want to see again. Helen’s (Robertson) snowballing obsession is depicted with humour and compassion. Everyone means well. But what does that mean?

We are immersed in Helen’s (Robertson) world for an hour. Inside her flat, cementing her loneliness. Embracing ‘The Rules’ like a tattered life jacket. 

We sit with her and peer out the window, searching for this bohemian geriatric.

The fun-seeking, chain-smoking April Delgado is conjured in our minds with flair and certainty by Robertson, who voices all the characters.

Bartlett asks the big questions. The ones that are going on now, which elude us all. What was the deal with lockdown? What’s going on with corona? Can anyone agree, actually? Do we not all live on a shifting spectrum of dealing with the virus? Do we not all vacillate wildly between over-caution and carpe diem? Is it human not to? Are we not all hypocrites who take it day by day? Don’t the Helens and the April Delgados really all mean the same? Well?

It is a play about doing the right thing. About friendship and loneliness and how to cope in our crazy, catalytic communities. It is also hilarious and bubbling with friction.

What is community? Doesn’t lockdown suit capitalism, individualism and exploitation across the world? But at the same time, isn’t it right that we do our bit in protecting the most vulnerable in society, whatever that means?

What does that mean?

We can’t be right, but if we all worked together we might get closer towards it.

Final thoughts: Thought-provoking, moralistic, a big “awwww” at the end. Includes the most sumptuous rant about capitalism.