Actress Sharon Small tells about her poignant role in ‘dementia’ play
Still Alice is the tender, poignant and heartwarming tale of a woman coming to terms with a life-changing condition. As the play comes to Norfolk, Sharon Small, who plays the title role,
Dementia has affected most of us in one way or another. Perhaps we have a relative with the condition, or maybe a friend has just been diagnosed.
So it’s little wonder that the play Still Alice, a newly-adapted version of Lisa Genova’s best-selling novel, has struck a chord with many.
Still Alice follows the story of renowned linguistics professor Alice Howland who is diagnosed with early-onset dementia at the age of 50 and the effect it has on her identity, family and relationships.
The production, which comes to Norwich Theatre Royal from October 2 to 6 as part of its UK tour, received critical acclaim when it was performed at West Yorkshire Playhouse earlier this year.
Actress Sharon Small is reprising the title role for the tour, her first tour in 25 years.
Sharon says: “From the experience of the audience, definitely people who’d had experience with living with dementia seemed to be especially moved by it.
“It’s a lot of little snapshots ... it just shows you one person’s story and what happens in their life for a bit and you can take from it what you want really, what you can relate to.
“I think that Alzheimer’s crosses all the divides, it doesn’t choose certain people and nobody is immune.”
She explains that the production looks at the disease from a human perspective – the message is don’t dismiss people as soon as they are diagnosed as they are still working and fighting (the disease).
She adds: “Yes, somewhere down the line it’s going to become very difficult, but I had people come to see it and said: ‘I wish I’d seen this. I watched my sister with this for eight years and this would have been incredibly helpful for me to have seen.’
“There are still moments of humour and there are still moments of pure love, but, of course, there is sadness and loss as the family grapple with the fact that this parent is no longer the woman that they recognise.”
Sharon describes Wendy Mitchell, a consultant for the play who has also been diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s disease, as “amazing”.
“She was so helpful. She still found such a lot of humour in her position. She was very determined to try to not get depressed,” she says.
“I think that depression and rage can be a very big part. Some people deal with it very differently.
“She gave us a very particular viewpoint on finding the positives and trying to educate other people into saying ‘You know, we may be struggling with certain things, but please still support us.
“‘We are still human beings, we haven’t changed a lot of things and although we might not remember your name we remember who you are, in terms of we remember what we feel about you’.
“So I felt that I learned a lot. I think sometimes we can discount people.
“It gave me a greater insight into noticing people with dementia or living with dementia around me, which I probably wouldn’t have been aware of as much.”
Still Alice was performed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds for the Every Third Minute festival, a series of plays and talks about
living with dementia.
The experience made Sharon aware of the importance of not ignoring people with dementia and the importance of using positive language when talking about the condition.
“I became a dementia-friendly person and I became aware of the language being really important,” Sharon says.
“I think I said when I first came to it the word ‘suffering’ and they really wanted to get it over to us that if you keep saying ‘suffering’ you keep making it a very, very negative disease and we have to find the positives on it, so ‘We are coping, we are living with this disease and we are making the best of it’.”
She adds: “It was an important difference to be aware of and to make and it’s important to the people who are living with dementia to not be seen as sufferers, but to be seen as dealing with it and doing their best and living with it as well as possible.”
Sharon has starred in The Inspector Lynley Mysteries and Mistresses on TV and also in the hit film About A Boy, opposite Hugh Grant, Nicholas Hoult and Toni Collette.
She has visited Norfolk before, for holidays with family and girlfriends from drama school, and has also been to Diss and Southwold.
This, though, is her first time on stage at Norwich Theatre Royal and she hopes that, through Still Alice, the audience will remember the humanity in living with dementia.
“It doesn’t lecture. It is just a story that you can relate to and it has got a momentum that carries you through,” she says.
“It’s about how it changes you as a person and how it changes you as a family. It is a very moving piece.”
Still Alice is at Norwich Theatre Royal from October 2 to 6. Call the box office on 01603 630000 or visit: www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
Weblinks: www.stillaliceplay.co.uk www.facebook.com/ Still Alice Play
Expect to be moved by the story and acting in Still Alice.
Sharon Small, who stars in the title role, in Still Alice.
Still Alice has been touring the country. Sharon has been getting brilliant reviews for her performance.