From the good life to funeral plans

Winding Up, Mayfair Theatre, Monday, March 6

Life has been good to Barry and Gen. Now retired, the former dentist and lawyer live in a luxury apartment; they have interests, friends and an excellent supply of wine. Bookshelves hold books that appear more artfully arranged than actually read. A European river cruise is planned, and as the play opens Gen is on the phone negotiating travel insurance.

Not everything is wonderful, though, and chief among their problems is one that causes Barry to make repeated visits to an oncologist. Travel planning continues, but funeral planning comes into the picture too, along with downsizing and family complications.

Roger Hall’s Winding Up is a sequel to Conjugal Rites, which premiered in 1990 and was revived in Dunedin in 2010.

Gen (played here by Alison Quigan), is as forthright, determined and pushy as ever, able to turn almost everything into a joke. Barry (Mark Hadlow), fumbling and difficult but still romantic, has seeing, hearing and mobility problems, and during the course of the play seems almost to be shrinking into himself. The pair bicker, snog and generally maintain their own brand of affectionate warfare.

Scenes are short, and the tone ranges from hilarious to poignant. Under Colin McColl’s direction, Quigan and Hadlow maintain an excellent momentum and keep the audience engaged and, mostly, laughing.

Old age and its rewards and discontents are not new territory for Hall, who in the last couple of decades has written (by my possibly incomplete count) five other plays on the theme. Winding Up is as good as any of the others, and sparkles with his customary wit.

The Dunedin season will run until Saturday. If you remember Conjugal Rites, well and good. If you don’t, you’ll enjoy Winding Up anyway.