An invigorating look at dementia

John Holden-White and Katie Brier in Simeons Watch. (s)
John Holden-White and Katie Brier in Simeons Watch. (s)

You could liken the depiction of dementia by Riding Lights Theatre Company to the tie-dye skies of winter: bleakness cracked by sunlight.

Simeon’s Watch explores the impact of the illness on three generations of a farming family: Rina, Leah and grandfather Simeon.

Capturing the light and shade cast on sufferers and their loved ones, the play drew a realistic picture of life with dementia: the grief; the worry; the disconnection; the resentment; the absurdity; the hilarity; and, above all, the enduring love.

John Holden-White delivered an intricate performance as Simeon, portraying a character etched by vulnerability, yet fired by passion. Applause must go to the actor for revealing - with sensitivity - the grief, frustration and loneliness felt by a man clinging to the threads of his past identity.

Edith Kirkwood demonstrated a keen perceptiveness as Leah, performing with warmth and honesty to capture the tangle of emotions that yank, shunt and exhaust chief care-givers: the guilt; the resentment; and the unbreakable love.

Kirkwood depicted with tenderness the conflict between a carer’s need to control a baffling and bleak situation – to protect all involved – and their desire to escape the weight of the responsibility.

Riddling the dismal image of dementia was Katie Brier’s tremendous warmth as Rina. Not only capturing the guilt, frustration and anxiety felt when plans are derailed by duty, she gave an endearing performance of a girl who uses humour and imagination to step into Simeon’s world.

While gentle fun was poked out of the absurd manifestations of the illness, Simeon was neither patronised nor infantilised.

Rather, Rina’s ability to open up her mind and heart to the possibility that two truths – that of factual reality and that of Simeon’s imaginary world - can coexist allowed her to translate his confusion at everyday objects like rose petals as a new and invigorating wonder. As the granddaughter of a women with dementia, I found this revitalising.

The show’s sincerity – kudos to writer Bridget Foreman, director Paul Burbridge and their creative/production teams – was both uplifting and cathartic. It thawed anxieties through humour, then delivered an emotional battering.

Despite the startling honesty about the grim reality of dementia, including the violence, Brier’s warmth drove the overriding tone of the play: joyfulness, for the liberating potential of the imagination; for the possibilities that come with change; and for the transformative power of love.