Karin Diamond’s new play is highly commendable in raising the issue of dementia in the format of a drama about how two families are affected. Yet what makes it head and shoulders above similar didactic drama writing is that here directed by the versatile Peter Doran this is an accomplished and highly enjoyable piece of live theatre.
It would ruin the experience to tell too much about the narrative, or at least the outcomes. Suffice to say one family is a mam and her two grown-up children and the second an older married couple.
They both tackle the issue of recognising dementia, accepting it, getting good treatment, coping mechanisms the context of health and social services provision, the good and not so good experience of care and other people’s attitudes and behaviour.
There is no attempt to sanitise the darkness of the subject, disguise the pain and suffering, deny the pressure on health services and variable standard of care and carers. However, neither is all doom and gloom. The relationships are ultimately life affirming, the carers that appear in the drama are inspirational and the conclusions positive without, I assume, unrealistic.
The production is based on Re-Live’s work with people living with dementia, family members and professional carers and while bilingual is predominantly English and there will be no difficulty at all in understanding by a non-Welsh speaking audience.
Designer Carl Davies and director Peter Doran work together to create a flexible set and choreography where the two households can alternate deftly; a wall with spaces for all manner of small props, particularly everyday objects such as cups, tea pots, table mats, cutlery containers etc that are used in the play but also objects such as suitcases, sea shells, pebbles and clocks, TV and radios from different periods – all deeply symbolic of life experiences, memories, shared histories, passing time. A staircase enables doubles as the access to the upstairs of the family home and also the route to a cliff top walk.
Sheila and Morys, our two characters who develop dementia are played by Francine Morgan and Llion Williams. Llion also plays the smaller roles of the neighbour Mike. Writer Diamond plays Sheila’s daughter Rhian, who recognises her mother’s situation, and the marvellous carer Sian. Nathan Sussex is the son Gareth who, in contrast to his sister, is in complete denial that his strong, supportive mother now needs help. He also plays the Nurse who shows deep sympathy for both his patient’s needs and those of their partner. Clêr Stephens is Morys’ wife Mags who feels she just can no longer go on as she is losing the man around whom her life revolves, the GP who assesses Sheila and the hilarious waitress Maria.
The cast is a delight with all of these characters, switching seamlessly one from the other, each carefully honed and beautifully observed. But the stand out performance has to be Llion Williams as Morys with acting that is gut wrenching in its pathos, heart breaking in its sincerity and conviction and remarkable in its range from the humour of neighbour Mike to the older Morys who becomes the farmers’ son and (aptly) relives childhood experiences in his first language Welsh.
Karin Diamond uses the device of Sheila not being fluent in Welsh to demonstrate how she is closed out of her husband’s life when he stops speaking English and how she is threatened and resentful of his relationship with his Welsh-speaking carer. As a Welsh learner I found it entrancing as I too struggled to understand what Morys was saying. Lovely stuff.
Go and see this excellent play. Yes, you will learn more and appreciate the humanity of dementia thanks to the work of specialised theatre company Re-Live. However, you will also experience and enjoy a damned good piece of theatre.
CARDIFF – CHAPTER THEATRE – chapter.org
Until May 7
SWANSEA – TALIESIN – taliesinartscentre.co.uk
May 12, 13
CARMARTHEN – LYRIC – theatrausirgar.co.uk
MILFORD HAVEN – TORCH THEATRE – torchtheatre.co.uk
May 19, 20
PWLLHELI – NEUADD DWYFOR – gwynedd.gov.uk/neuadd-dwyfor
BANGOR – PONTIO – pontio.co.uk
May 26, 27
HOLYHEAD – NEUADD UCHELDRE – ucheldre.org
CAERNARFON – GALERI – galericaernarfon.com
BRECON – THEATR BRYCHEINIOG – brycheiniog.co.uk