Dementia and the Arts

It’s easy as a critic to focus on the play as performance.  But what about the play as educator?  I recall the post show discussion for Open Clasp’s Key Change, talking about a performance in the Houses of Parliament to highlight the issues of women in prison.  On Saturday I watched Haylo Theatre’s Over the Garden Fence, a wonderful play about dementia  performed at Manchester Museum as part of Dementia Awareness Week.

Haylo (Hayley Riley and Louise Evans) talked about the use of the play to promote an awareness of dementia.  It’s a very personal story, which means that it doesn’t cover all the medical bases.  But in many ways that’s what makes it work so well because ‘it’s more interesting than a powerpoint’.  In the panel discussion afterwards the point was made by several people that it’s about seeing the individual person and not the dementia.  So a play that raises emotional questions might be as powerful as a technical presentation.

One fascinating point was that the theatre company can change the play to suit specific audiences.  I watched a play about Annabelle and her grandmother.  Being around my mother’s age, I connected strongly with this, and to be honest I wish I’d seen this play three years ago; it would have avoided a lot of learning by experience and mistake.  But when performing to younger audiences with dementia they use a daughter-mother relationship.  It is this flexibility to change the structure of the play that makes it such a powerful educational tool.

As I understand it, theatre is used this way in schools, and in specific environments like prisons and hospitals.  But why not use drama more as an educator within our own lives?  Not in a theatre environment, but in an open learning environment.  There are so many challenges that we, the general public, have to face up to in our own, our parents’ and our children’s lives.  There is so much potential for theatre to educate.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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