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Author: Westgarth Productions
Published on 24 March 2011 11:00 AM

'An Evening With Dementia' is a new play which dares to deal in depth with an issue theatre often ignores.

During its three week run at last year's Edinburgh Festival it was much applauded and appreciated by carers, nurses and doctors. One nurse wrote, 'Anyone caring for someone with dementia should certainly see this play'.

It plays at
Theatre At The Mill, Newtownabbey - Friday 15 April at 7:45pm
Helix Theatre DCU, Glasnevin, Dublin - Thursday 28 & Friday 29 April
Wexford Arts Centre - Saturday 7 May at 8.15 pm

Lesley Warner wrote of it in the medical magazine "Mental Health Practice": "When putting on an Edinburgh Fringe show about mental health issues it must be tricky deciding on the balance between raising awareness, educating the audience and simply providing entertainment. In "An Evening with Dementia" Trevor T. Smith's magnificent portrayal of a former actor living in a care home combines all three elements."
Other reviewers included The Scotsman: "Ultimately, the well-paced script succeeds in highlighting the unseen humanity of a dementia sufferer",  Fest Theatre Review: "Trevor T. Smith gives an affecting performance as he makes visible the rarely-seen struggle of dementia sufferers from their own perspective", and The British Theatre Guide called it "heartrending" and  hailed it "as one of the most essential pieces of theatre which has come out of the Fringe".

Jill Prentice, a psychoanalytical psychotherapist who works in the Scottish Institute of Human Relations wrote, "From a professional point of view I found the play very instructive in trying to get inside the mind of someone in a dependent situation, in a care home and struggling with aspects of dementia. The humour in it is never cruel or patronising but adds to the heart warming and poignant story as the elderly resident moves between present and past experiences, never being quite sure what is his reality. Whether a lay or professional person this play will give great enjoyment and help them to reconsider their feelings about older people and the ageing process. I would love to include it in my training courses for staff working with older people."

And below is a review by: Lawrence C. Kaplan MD, ScM, FAAP, (Consultant, Neurodisabilities at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London)  for The Lancet and The British Medical Journal.

March 20, 2011

When I was a medical student in the 1980's, the most enduring advice I received was to never be afraid to imagine what it must feel like to actually have my patients' illnesses, to not sympathize but to empathsize.  Gaining that insight however can be difficult, for it often requires the student to discover new things alone, without the teacher helping him/her separate illness from its own context.

An Evening With Dementia, the award-winning new play currently on tour throughout the UK, is able to teach both clinicians and non-clinicians alike about Dementia in ways I have rarely seen achieved in the classroom or in the clinical setting, let alone, the professional theatre. More than a play, it is a powerful lesson. It enlightens, inspires, and most important,teaches what the individual with advanced dementia might want and need others to understand if he could be the teacher. Here is a theatrical production that takes on a compelling subject in a ways that are both informative and thoroughly entertaining at the same time.

Brilliantly written and performed by distinguished British actor, Trevor T. Smith, and produced by Westgarth Productions, this one man play invites us into the inner thoughts and struggles of an elderly man who simply wants us to know what it is like to have dementia.  That is the simple yet powerful premise of the play.

It opens with a vision of a man sitting alone speechless and seemingly oblivious to the entering audience, and then this image becomes suspended as he struggles, and then confidently begins to speak.  The story unfolds with a dignified humor and wise and piercing irony, but is never maudlin or self-pitying. No one feels awkward sharing this intimacy; to the contrary we become deeply interested in what he has to tell us, and want to learn more. We are led through the labyrinth of memory loss, at times experiencing it ourselves, trying to unravel the confusion of not recognizing familiar faces or voices. There are plenty of places to laugh, but never uncomfortably, as well as to pause to think of our own frailties.  And at the most poignant moment in the play, our teacher, a former actor himself, joins us in the audience and sits, as together we wait awkwardly for the play "his play" to continue. 

An Evening with Dementia began as a sell out show in the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, one of the notable performances that year that outgrew its performance space exponentially as word got around. That seems to have been the pattern since, with venues during the past months including The Theatre at the Mill, Newtownabbey, Belfast, and The Helix Theatre in Dublin. It can be seen at the Wexford Arts Centre (May 7th), The Plough Arts Centre, Great Torrington, Devon (June 17th), Worcester's Number 8 Theatre (October 15th), Cotswold Playhouse, Stroud, Glos.  (October 21st), and The Mill Studio at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford (October 6th).  In addition, there is a trailer 'An Evening with Dementia' on YouTube.

I can envision and indeed hope soon, that this play will also find a deserved place as a powerful teaching tool in health professional training.  It has the portability, but also the theatrical power and vision that even our best textbooks often can’t achieve. It also has the same unmistakable quality to inspire as our best teachers might have done.

Lawrence C. Kaplan MD, ScM, FAAP
Consultant in Neurodisabilities

opens link in new window View trailer on YouTube
opens link in new window Theatre at the Mill website   

For more information: Call Age NI Advice: 0808 808 7575