Unforgettable tale of loss at Burnley Library

Emma Decent is exploring her mind-boggling life in I Dont Know What Im Supposed To Be Doing. (s)
Emma Decent is exploring her mind-boggling life in I Dont Know What Im Supposed To Be Doing. (s)
Share this article

It will be hard to forget this tender tale of a fraught relationship between a daughter and a mother with dementia.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing” is the phrase that came back to haunt actress Emma Decent.

They were the heart-breaking words repeatedly uttered by her mother when her dementia first emerged and became the inspiration and title of her latest play.

When her mum died 15 years later, Emma found herself asking the very same thing.

“I realised it was quite a profound thing to say,” she said. “After all, do any of us really know what we’re supposed to be doing?”

Her autobiographical tale parallels the lives of two women of different generations.

“The last 16 years of my life were richly coloured by the aging process of both my parents, my mother’s being dominated by her dementia,” she said.

“I struggled to watch them change, to fail, to require me to step up to the challenge of changing roles and become ‘grown-up’ at last, and to put to bed some of my resentments of their imperfect parenting as spawned in adolescence. My relationship with my mother (perhaps inevitably) was always the more loaded.”

Using story-telling, photographic slideshows, music, and personal mementoes and books, Emma tracks her life from her childhood teenage years of angst under Margaret Thatcher’s reign to her dreams and frustrations as an adult.

But despite the difficulties faced in her relationship with her mother, Emma felt somewhat lost without her: and so the show also celebrates her love and legacy and radiates with powerful catharsis.

“When my mother died, despite the imperfections of our relationship and the fact she’d had dementia for over 10 years, I never felt more lonely.
“I gradually turned my attention to this possible project as a way of processing it all – picking up old poems, fragments of writing, memories, photos – and her legacy to me as embodied in her love for literature, culture and books.

“I am growing in understanding of the cathartic nature of theatre – as true medicine. I am taking this into my teaching – running workshops and classes in life-writing and making drama from life. I feel this is something my mum would be proud of.”

The tale will unfold on Saturday at Burnley Library at 2pm, as part of the Burnley Literary Festival.

It will be followed by a workshop on Monday at the library from 2 - 4-30pm when participants will use a memento of their own to inspire creative life-writing.

Book either event for free at www.ticketsource.co.uk