For the Best is a very unusual work. Despite it being a Unity theatre production, it’s more a strange kind of performance art than straight up theatre. There isn’t much dialogue, and when there is, isn’t really the point. If you don’t hear it, it doesn’t really matter – it’s a whispered “are you alright” and a nod of the head in reply, when everybody knows nothing is alright.
The piece, by artist Mark Storor and collaborator Anna Ledgard, is described as “an imaginative exploration of a family’s experience of living with renal disease, inspired by and created with adults and children attending hospitals in Liverpool.” And as can be gleaned from that, it is hard-going. Its humanity is relentless, and it leaves audience members in tears and with nowhere to hide. It’s a hard slog, weaving through the different rooms of the office space with mindboggling creativity.
In some, the work is moved along in a tableux style, the audience watching barely moving characters, lost in their own world of tragedy and thought. In others, there is artwork to ponder while the actors are sneaked by to the next room they are needed in. In more rooms again, there is multimedia, or dialogue driven scenes, and a great deal of physical theatre.
And although the show is created with children in mind, it’s so strange and so unsettling in parts it’s hard not to feel protective over the young people involved in the show, never mind those who might go and watch. Not only is it a bit weird in parts, but it spells very little out. It credits the audience with an intelligence and imagination to figure out all its strands, who is who, and how they relate to each other – or indeed, why anything that is happening is happening.
One unforgettably odd scene saw one sick character, dancing on a table in just his underwear and a party hat, laid down and covered in party food by the guests – fairy cakes up and down his legs, icing on his toes, chocolate fingers balanced between them. Then, the other actors set about greedily eating everything off him. Amid many strange and unnerving scenes, it bought to mind more of the kind of disturbing, provocative films you would encounter in an art gallery, rather than any theatre. What on earth did it all mean? You could only really guess as it all sunk in.
Ultimately, though, there could be only one ending for that particular character, and the closing scenes are executed brilliantly. Another family is also confronted with death, and meet it head on. For all the drama and enormous issues confronted in For the Best, it is a sensitive, rich and surprisingly understated work that demands a lot of its audience. However, it pays back dividends, providing some truly memorable experiences that will stick in the mind for a long time after we’re escorted down the fire escape, out on to the street, and back into our real lives.