A thoughtful evening with dementia

By Katie MacFadyen
8 Aug 2012

The recent performance at the Festival of Spirituality and Peace of 'An Evening with Dementia', a one-man play written and performed by Trevor T. Smith, was followed by a fascinating discussion led by Professor June Andrews from the University of Stirling.

Smith was quick to remind the audience that his play is not about 'dementia' but rather about one individual who suffers from - or rather, accepts - dementia. And if there's one thing that came out of the ensuing discussion, it's that dementia is all about the individual.

Audience members shared their experiences as carers, from looking after parents with dementia or temporary delirium to caring for patients with AIDs dementia, telling of their loved one's unique needs and symptoms from spiritual perspectives ranging from Christian to spiritualist.

'An Evening with Dementia' proved highly thought-provoking, opening up new perspectives and causing us to re-evaluate our own experiences, as is to be expected from a play with such harrowing and uncomfortable subject matter.

However, there were also some surprising elements to the evening, like the sense of bittersweet humour that pervaded both performance and discussion; all agreed that it's typical of dementia patients not to lose their sense of humour.

Perhaps most surprising of all was the element of poetry. 'An Evening with Dementia' was partly inspired by a poem written by a dementia patient, which can be read here on the show's website; the evening ended with the reading of a poem by an audience member about her mother's dementia; and the play itself was filled not only with quotations from King Lear but also with poetic imagery to describe the symptoms of dementia.

This poetry lies at the heart of the play. Trevor T. Smith's poetry of life and death reclaims dignity and meaning for dementia patients, and both discussion and performance made it clear that these are perhaps the most important things of all.

* 'An Evening with Dementia' is being performed daily at 16:05 in the Radison Hotel.

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(c) Katie MacFadyen is a fourth year student of Classics at the University of Edinburgh, about to start a dissertation in Reception Studies: the study of how classics is and has been used in subsequent cultural contexts. She also writes speculative fiction and theatre, as well as film and book reviews. Her theatre reviews from the Fringe Festival 2011 can be found on http://thenewkid.co.uk and http://somesuchlike.wordpress.com. She is a media intern for the Festival of Spirituality and Peace 2012 and contributes regularly to Spirituality and Peace News.

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