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An Evening With Dementia
Published on Monday, 20 August 2012
5

5 stars

theSpace on the Mile (venue website)
Theatre
3-4, 6-25 Aug, 4:05pm-4:55pm
Reviewed by Lynsey Martenstyn

 Recommended for age 12+ only.
 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.

Dementia is an illness usually left in the shadows, alongside those whom it affects. This touching, humorous play gives it a voice, a character and a heart. Trevor T Smith has written and performs in a one-man play, accessible for all ages, which draws dementia into the light.

Smith plays an elderly man with the condition, who sits centre stage throughout the majority of the performance. The character discusses his life, offers tips on surviving with dementia and thoughts on growing old. The character created is undoubtedly likable – his good sense of humour and honesty are largely to contribute for this. “Don’t use names!” he warns, eyes unfocused, looking in the direction of the audience. “Always call a man ‘mate’ and a woman ‘dear’. Don’t use names! Names will get you into hot water!” He repeats this a few times.

As the character tells us more about how he lives, the extent to which he is suffering with dementia grows increasingly apparent. He does not remember his children, and applies his rule of calling them “mate” or “dear”. He judges how he should react in accordance with facial expressions and age. In a painful part of the script, he encounters a “decrepit woman with a Zimmer frame”, who is brought to his hospital bed. He has no recollection that this is his wife.

The writing frequently allowed for the audience to see the larger picture, as well as through the eyes of the old man. This gave the character depth and allowed us to sympathise with those around him, not just the protagonist. And the staging and lighting are both simple, allowing all attention to be on the show’s star. He sits in a chair, with a blanket across his legs throughout, except for a brief moment when he joins the audience.

The writing and performance of Trevor T. Smith make this show a must-see. Every expression and movement is in character, making the monologue fantastically realistic, emotive and engaging. The writing paints a charming character who has had a full life as an actor, can still quote Shakespeare, and is surrounded by a large and supportive family. Dementia does not form who he is, but the writing shows how life-changing the illness can be.

A delightful moment occurs when Smith briefly interacts with the audience and sits amongst them. This excursion breaks up the piece, which might otherwise be too focused around the character sitting in a chair, but it could have had slightly more structure. There were times when the whole audience, including Smith’s character, was watching an empty stage for longer than necessary.

Not only does An Evening With Dementia shed light on a forgotten and serious cause, it is also a joy to watch. With the ability to frequently provoke tears and laughter throughout, this deeply moving, inspirational performance proves that dementia does not mean the end.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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