Riding Lights Theatre Company is helping to breathe hope into the dark and painful world of dementia with its new production “Simeon’s Watch”.
It’s a topic close to the heart of director Paul Burbridge, whose father has Alzheimer’s, a condition continually widening its impact upon society.
Exploring methods of communication with both humour and sensitivity, the play depicts the “hard, funny, illogical and crazy things of this world”.
It tells of three generations of a farming family: grandfather Simeon, suffering from dementia; his daughter Leah, struggling to cope with her duty of care; and his 16 year-old granddaughter, who is “instrumental in bringing light into the situation”.
Delivering workshops both in the theatre and in care homes, and listening to the tales of carers, sufferers and loved ones, the company explored the art of improvisation and its application to dementia as a means of communication.
It’s a technique Paul used to connect to his own father, who spent part of his working life organising camps and conferences for youngsters.
When his Alzheimer’s would plant him in the past, Paul would play along, reassuring him that the camps would run smoothly.
“People sometimes have a very narrow view of what truth is,” Paul said. “It’s not always factual. Sometimes there’s a spiritual, emotional or imaginative truth. Everything doesn’t always have to be governed by what appears completely rational.
“Actors are used to using their imaginations to tell a story. You go with the flow,” he added. “The worst thing you can do is block someone else’s suggestions. It’s better to accept what they throw in and go there together.
“This playfulness can be healing because it brings people together. Young people are good at this, as they haven’t lost the art of play. It brings warmth, fun and hope into a situation and helps people stay in contact.”
“Dementia can be dark,” he said, “but that needs to be counterbalanced with light, hope and positivity. Sometimes we don’t realise those kind of levels of communication are open to us.”
“Simeon’s Watch” is a play that “feeds people”, reminding them that “the facts of a situation are not more important than loving one another.”
It will be staged tonight at Padiham Road Methodist Church, Brassey Street, Burnley, at 7-30pm.
To book a ticket (£12 each or £10 for concessions) call 01904 613000 or visit www.ridinglights.org