Produced by Re-Live
Written and directed by Karin Diamond
Belonging is an unpretentious piece of theatre about unpretentious people “dealing with” dementia.
If you try and advertise it as such, it could be a hard sell. Try selling The Railway Man as an evening of “an ordinary man deals with torture and reconciliation” or King Lear as a “family dealing with Dementia” (rather badly).
So most of the audience at Chapter Arts in Cardiff on April 29th were people whose professional life is spent “dealing with dementia” or dealing with the role of arts in dementia – a rather narrow section of the public, you’d say.
I am sure I wasn’t alone in thinking – I hope it isn’t going to make me fear this illness even more than I already do.
The first thing to say about this show was that it was gripping and entertaining. It was drawn from a deep knowledge and deeply humane understanding of the practical and emotional consequences of “dealing with dementia”.
It followed two families – a husband with vascular dementia and his wife’s journey in caring for him; and a woman becoming aware of her Alzheimer’s symptoms and facing that diagnosis, with her adult children working towards their own relationship to it and their changing relationship to her.
Performed in traverse with the actors occasionally interacting with us and never leaving the space – this was close up theatre. We were in the room with this disease; we were allowed to observe it and become familiar with it without having to “deal with it” ourselves. A case of “Life is better than fiction but fiction allows us to share it with others. “
We were close to all the people of the story – they were ordinary – like us – normal everyday people – this could be us, this is us – negotiating decisions with daughters, mothers , siblings, neighbours and strangers, and medical and care services. Don’t imagine for a moment that this was an animated pamphlet! It was personal and human and powerfully real, – no theatrical fireworks, but restrained and crafted theatricality served by authentic, detailed, authoritative acting from a superb cast.
Two theatrical conventions took this beyond the everyday – a trio of musicians blended with the action and illuminated the internal brain and emotional activity of those with dementia with their sounds. And the two characters with dementia had monologues which enabled them to describe to us what was happening inside them – this was a revelation in many ways. One of the great fears we have, I think, is “what is it like for them?” We fear this confusion for ourselves, we fear the one way journey it may take – we fear the onset, the middle and the end.
These monologues were in part drawn from interviews with people – and as the director Karin Diamond said – these revealed the poetic expression of the condition that is possible for those living with it.
“The dark grey sky meets the dark grey sea, and the sea roars up onto the black sand and the light of the sun is nowhere to be seen, and I don’t know where the sea ends and the clouds begin, but I know that I used to know”
It revealed the humanity of the experience first hand. And this expression is very rarely heard amidst all the other discourse on the subject.
The mainly specialist audience were unanimous, in an after show feedback session, that this play was an important one for their staff, for the families of people with dementia at any stage of its onset, for the general public who need to begin to create spaces for people with dementia and those wanting to be with them in everyday spaces – not locked away.
Karin Diamond’s knowledge of Dementia in its many manifestations and its growing presence in our society and personal lives is profound. She has extensive experience with her co-director, Alison O’Connor, of bringing their arts practice to care homes, working with care staff, and seeing the many different ways in which we as a general public can begin to face and live with the inevitable growing number of people we will know with dementia. It was challenging and searingly sad at times but full of hope about the capacity of people to be the best they can be.
Claire Cage John Cording Lynn Hunter Nathan Sussex
Director: Karin Diamond Producer: Alison O’Connor
Stage Manager: Julie Towson Designer: Garry Bartlett
Lighting Designer: Paul Towson Written by Karin Diamond
Poster Design by Garry Bartlett Photography by Claire Cousin
Music composed by James Clark
Accordion: James Clark Double Bass: Peter Komor Drums: Rod Oughton
Arts Council of Wales