Sweet Engineering of the Lucid Mind, Hen and Chickens

Mitch Féral’s play Sweet Engineering of the Lucid Mind started life as the winning 15-minute entry in last year’s Offcut Festival. Now expanded into a full length piece – running at 1 hr 20 min, without an interval – it combines high-minded philosophical ideas about quantum physics and the nature of existence with the practical, heartbreaking reality of caring for a spouse with early onset dementia.

Simon Nicholas is the (unnamed) man who is living his life in disjointed fragments. His mind jumps from moment to moment, living life in permanent flashback, while his wife (Debra Baker) struggles to keep up.

Both the script and the performances convey the messy conflict of emotions that such a debilitating disease can inflict. Seeing the couple relive some of their more romantic moments is joyful, but as the wife grows increasingly tired at her husband’s incessant demands on her time, the joy turns to despair.

In a lucid moment, the husband expresses his wish, fuelled by his passion for quantum physics and astronomy, to be a time traveller, which only serves to highlight the cruel injustice his brain disease inflicts – fulfilling his wish in the cruellest way.

The devastating effect of dementia on the carer is made clear as the play progresses. “For better or worse?” his wife muses. “This isn’t worse. It’s worse than worse.” But thanks to Baker and Nicholas’s gut-wrenching deliveries of Féral’s clever, touching, funny and tragic script, this play is better than better.

Sweet Engineering of the Lucid Mind runs until April 2