Di­ary: our pick of the county’s best events

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THE DI­ARY

SU CAR­ROLL’S picks of Devon events in Oc­to­ber

STILL ALICE

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.

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