Three – Review – West Yorkshire Playhouse
By Matt Callard, March 2018
The very first line of this trio of separate but connected shorts about dementia is a joke. It’s important because, with the seriousness of the subject hanging in the auditorium air like a thick fog, the levity allows in pinpricks of light – and immediately softens the atmosphere.
Throughout these 20 minute plays the humour is critical – and even includes a fiendishly brilliant use of the off-stage prompter when one actor, accidentally on purpose, ‘forgets’ her lines.
Three is part of the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s groundbreaking ‘Every Third Minute’ festival, a collection of events, theatre and discussions on dementia. The plays were only commissioned in December 2017 and are written by people living with dementia, working alongside professional writers.
“Memory and remembrance”
Four actors, constantly on stage, change roles throughout the three plays. The first, ‘I See Land’ by Bob Fulcher and Dominic Gately, focuses as much on memory and remembrance than the disease itself, as the lead (Jem Dobbs) weaves a mesh of memories together that eventually brings into focus his close lifelong relationship with a friend (Manish Ghandi).
Memories are exchanged, poignantly and humorously, until the lead eventually reveals his battle with Alzheimer’s – and this is then offset against the preventable problems and mistakes from his friend’s own turbulent and often regrettable life story.
Second play, ‘Our Memories’ is set in the remarkable Hamari Yaadain Memory Cafe in Harehills. This real life community cafe is a touchstone for dementia care for south Asian people in Leeds – and it’s their voices we hear, siphoned through the four actors (and co-writer Ming Ho) as they sit on stools centre stage.
As the four immigrant voices become clearer, we see dementia in a unique historical context, lined up against a litany of other diseases, some caused by the horrendous working conditions that these émigrés once suffered. The message here is clear as a bell: ‘You have to make happiness’. Despite everything – even under the shadow of dementia – it can still be found.
The final play, ‘A Horse Called Freedom’ by Rosa Peterson and Barney Bardsley, tackles vascular dementia. Here, memories are more ethereal and become entangled in hallucinatory episodes and flights of fancy. Fran Wyburn’s beautiful harp chords accompany actor Susan Cookson’s dreamlike monologues as the metaphorical wild horse of the title gallops into view, offering freedom, release and hope.
The ‘dream of supported living’ rings out – and it’s clear from the tears and emotion around me that this piece resonates strongly with so many of those present.
The three plays combined reveal a truth: that dementia isn’t the end of everything, just the beginning of something else – and that fear, wherever it rears its ugly head, needs to be defeated.
You leave the theatre more enlightened and more hopeful than before you entered.
Thrillingly, Three will tour care homes and community settings in and around Leeds, with performances sponsored by the National Institute for Health Research, which supports the research of the NHS. There, it is certain to resonate even further.
images: David Lindsay