Diary: our pick of the county’s best events
SU CARROLL’S picks of Devon events in October
A stage production of Still Alice, which was part of a pioneering festival about dementia at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, is reaching a much wider audience with a national tour which includes Plymouth’s Theatre Royal.
The film version gave Julianne Moore a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Alice, a renowned linguistics professor at Harvard University who develops dementia in her 50s. The stage version has been adapted by Christine Mary Dunford from the film’s original source material, neuroscientist Lisa Genova’s bestselling book Still Alice.
Reprising her role as Alice is Sharon Small, best known for her television roles in The Inspector Linley Mysteries, Trust Me and Mistresses, as well as for starring with Hugh Grant, Nicholas Hoult and Toni Collette in the film About A Boy.
She says it’s a really difficult disease to tackle accurately, but working on the play has taught her a lot more about living with dementia, something that affects over 40,000 people under 65 in the UK.
“It really resonates with people and many come and share their experiences with me afterwards,” she says. “I have a real belief in the project and it felt really important to go on; to continue telling this story for people to relate to. It is such an arbitrary disease and it crosses every boundary.
“I had no first-hand experience of dementia, but there are a lot of people who are dealing with it and living with it well.
“They need understanding, and for people around them to be willing to adapt,” said Sharon. “On any given day parts of their brain may not work as they should. Some people get very distressed, upset or angry when this happens, while others may lose the ability to express emotion.” In the play another actress plays the part of Alice’s brain, creating a sense of the character observing herself from the outside.
“Some people living with dementia say that they often feel like they are watching themselves and that they struggle to understand why that can’t do certain things. But they still have a need and a want to be useful. They are still trying to live a positive life.”
Changing negative language (living with dementia rather than suffering with, for example) is a simple way in which we can all offer support, but Sharon believes that there is a way to go yet.
“This illness is really cruel and understanding is so important. One lady hadn’t changed her clothes for a long time. She was aware she needed to, but because the wardrobe door was closed, and so she couldn’t see her clothes, she didn’t know they were there.” Still Alice is at the Theatre Royal Plymouth 30 October3 November. Book online at theatreroyal.com.