A mind with dementia is a theatre set…

…in which there are but few practicable entrances.

Victor Hugo wrote the original quotation in Les Misérables,  not about dementia but about life. “Life is a theatre set in which there are but few practicable entrances.”

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But it seemed to work in my head, thinking about dementia and ravaged minds – yes, few practicable entrances for someone outside to get a grasp of what’s going on inside.

A while back, wonderful actor friend, Libby Wattis did me the great honour of asking me to write a one-woman show for her – a theatre piece about the onset and eventual stranglehold of dementia.

I’ve known Libby ever since she played a fabulous corpse in my short film Go Grimly, produced in 2009. (No jokes required about the ease of learning the lines!) Here’s the trailer, but don’t be distracted.

So – dementia. Theatre. One-woman show. 45 minutes. Me. Write it.

Not much experience in theatre. However, the experience I had was terrific, thanks largely to another great actor, Debra Baker, who, much to my vicarious pride, has just won the Norman Beaton Fellowship and a 5-month contract with BBC Radio Drama. She played a brilliant Irene, school cook, in another one-woman piece, called Throwing Darts at Jamie Oliver, which got to the finals of the Daffodil Theatre Awards in, I think, 2010.

Theatre. One-woman show. Me. Write it. Yes.

The first practicable entrance to the theatre set of dementia was via my heart. My lovely father was stricken with Alzheimer’s in the latter couple of years of his life, so I could take a lot from his experiences as I witnessed them. An intelligent man, a doctor, who knew exactly, excruciatingly, the inexorable fate that would befall him and how oh so much happier he was, and we were to watch him, when he descended far enough into a different world to make his future unintelligible to him.

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The second practicable entrance was to be presented with Libby’s research and to talk to her, at length, about how she wanted to portray dementia.

The title – I chose, with thanks to American writer Jarod Kintz – who said, ““Alzheimer’s is the cleverest thief, because she not only steals from you, but she steals the very thing you need, to remember what’s been stolen.”

‘The Cleverest Thief’ is now complete. It has a director attached – Paul Ratcliffe – Director of Theatre, Arts@Trinity. An extract has been previewed at a scratch night in Barnsley with great feedback, I gather.

Here’s what Libby has said about the experience so far:

“Caroline has listened – really listened. She listened to what I wanted the show to be, and then she listened some more, so that she heard my voice and the voice of Florence, the protagonist. Like any character played by an actor, Florence is both me and not me. She has her own distinctive voice, which is different from mine. 

The play, so far anyway, is easy to learn, because it flows, and because it is all written in Florence’s voice. An actor can tell good writing because it is easy to learn, and as you get more familiar with the text, you develop the sense that the words could not ever have been different. The Cleverest Thief  is like that; the words, phrases and scenes just belong together.

I said from the start that I wanted the play to be pitched right on the border between laughter and tears – and at the first scratch night showing of an extract from the show, one of the audience gave the feedback ‘I felt between laughter and tears the whole time’.”

We have performance dates now, in Leeds, in York, tbc in London.

I’m excited! Mainly, I’m honoured that I might in some way make a difference to the way people regard dementia, a debilitating condition, and its effect on everyone around it, this clever and despicable thief of the mind.

Image courtesy of Graham Crouch

Image courtesy of Graham Crouch

 

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