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,

Let's Talk - - Contents - speaks to Rachel Ban­ham.

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.

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