This brand new play by Frank McGuinness is absolutely bang up to date. Set in a residential care facility during the Covid 19 pandemic it explores the impact of Lockdown upon older people and their loved ones. The Visiting Hour takes place over the single hour in a week when a woman is permitted to visit with her elderly father. Tight restrictions are in place and she is not allowed to enter the building and must communicate with her father whilst perched on a window outside his room. At intervals an announcement reminds her not to outstay her welcome. Only one hour is permitted for each visitor. These restrictions serve to disorientate the father who is in the early stages of dementia and already showing signs of confusion. He isn’t too sure who his daughter is, when or where they are. The Covid restrictions thoroughly baffle him. He can’t understand why his daughter is shouting at him through a window or why she can only stay for an hour. For many people who’ve visited a loved one in a nursing home, hospital, residential care facility or even in isolation at home during the Pandemic these scenes will be painfully familiar. It is heartening to see how writers are already beginning to explore how Lockdown restrictions have impacted the elderly and particularly those living with dementia.
Over the course of the hour the father and daughter banter about events from the past. It is unclear whether these incidents have actually happened or are fabricated anecdotes the father likes to recount. The line between real and unreal is blurred throughout. The two protagonists talk and argue, laugh and even sing together, revealing a profound connection and a degree of fondness. In some ways they seem dependent upon each other. Though the daughter is now looking out for her ageing father’s physical and mental wellbeing, the play reveals how in the past he has cared for her. The Visiting Hour is very much a contemporary play; poignant, recognisable and scarily relevant. In a very gentle, subtle way it asks big questions in regards to how isolation and loneliness, particularly during the Pandemic years, will negatively impact upon our older people. It’s also a beautiful and honest portrait of the relationship between a father and his daughter and how this sort of relationship evolves and changes with time.
The Visiting Hour was published by Faber and Faber in 2021.