Following the lives of two families as they cope with diagnoses of dementia, the play is a nuanced exploration of how relationships must be re-plotted as disease progresses, not least the relationship one has with oneself when coming to terms with the changes that occur in the early stages of the disease.
Llion Williams returns as Morys, a former self-made businessman with his roots in the Welsh hills. Married to Mags (touchingly played by Clêr Stephens), his insecure and loving wife-turned-carer, it is through her perspective that we gain a sense of the man that he once was. Mags is as set adrift as her husband and she toils desperately to navigate a route through traumatic change. Morys’ decline into dementia is rapid and heart breaking. In one swift turn, he transforms from energetic and driven garage owner to a haunted, disorientated shell of a man. It is a gut-wrenching transition and the devastatingly destructive nature of this disease is painfully undeniable. Williams astonishes in his physical transformation. His is a performance devoid of sentimentality and it is clear how he scooped up the best male actor awards at last year’s Wales Theatre Awards.
Wales Theatre Awards Best Male Performer, Llion Williams, Belonging
Gillian Elisa plays Sheila with lightness of touch and agreeable comic timing. Here, we see a slower disease progression, but one that is felt acutely by herself and her children (Rhian, warmly played by Karin Diamond and Gareth, performed by the ebullient Sion Pritchard). Shame, embarrassment and fear feature in equal measure (a diagnosis of cancer would be easier to share) and Karin Diamond’s script is clear in its message for everyone to see beyond the diagnosis. Love and laughter do not disappear because of dementia.
Carl Davies’ set is characteristically detailed and multi-functional, with a nice touch of projection thrown into Ceri James’ otherwise simple but effective lighting set. Dramaturgically, the script could be strengthened by reigning in the repetition and exposition and Doran’s direction creates a tone that is a touch overly sentimental at times. Further opportunities to see rather than be told about Morys and Mags in their younger days would be welcome.
The measure of the play however, is in its impact on the audience. Many of those attending have had direct personal experience of supporting loved ones with dementia and were deeply touched by the performances. There was unanimous agreement that the play is an accurate and sensitive portrayal of life as a carer. Re-Live has worked directly with older people, families and individuals living with dementia and Belonging/Perthyn has been shaped by the stories that these people have kindly shared, as well as Re:live’s national dementia training programme for health and social care professionals. It truly is grounded in honesty. In a pre-show talk, Re:live reiterated its commitment to furthering the public’s understanding of dementia, recognising that knowledge and understanding are rather different things, and they are hopeful that Belonging/Perthyn will continue to have an impact on public and health professionals’ attitudes towards dementia. Austerity and budget cuts mean that it is now more important than ever to hear the voices of those affected by dementia so that they may be properly supported and treated with empathy and care and Re-Live must be heartily commended for their continued pledge to do so.
Chapter BSL performances: 1st May 2pm & 3rd May 7.30pm
Torch Theatre – 10th – 12th May Milford Haven
Theatr Clwyd BSL performance: 17th May 7.45pm
Taliesin BSL performances: 24th May 2pm & 7.30pm
Borough Theatre – 6th June Abergavenny
Main image: Llion Williams and Clêr Stephens