The new production from Re-Live, written by Karin Diamond and directed by Peter Doran, focuses on the stories of two different families. Both families have one thing in common; one member of each family has dementia. But this play does more than tell the story of the horribly hurtful truth of the illness, it also tells us the story of the people who surround those with dementia, in a deeply delicate and witty Welsh way.
One family, a mother (Francine Morgan) with a son (Nathan Sussex), a daughter (Karin Diamond) and a grandchild are struggling through what seems to be the beginning of them recognising the mother’s illness. Her daughter is worried; her son is (at first) oblivious. The mother is frightened and increasingly forgetful sparking some worry in not only her family but her friends too. But amid the worry is the ever faithful humour the mother inhabits, her ability to make a laugh and a joke about her forgetfulness carries them as does her eventual willingness to listen to her family, their worries and fears and also her own.
The other family are an older married couple who have spent 42 beautiful years together in their happily bilingual love story of a life. But their story changes in front of us. We see Morris (Llion Williams), the husband, transform into the illness at a rapid pace. It is, in the most innocently brutal way, hard to watch. His chatty self disappears almost, as he loses his English and speaks only Welsh making communication a difficult deed for his non-Welsh speaking wife. He reverts back to his childhood memories frequently and it is only when his wonderful carer helps him to indulge his own world that we see him feeling comfortable again. Their story pays particular attention to Morris’ wife (Clêr Stephens) too, showing how far those around an ill loved one can feel pushed to the brink while also showing us how the courage, positivity and happy help of others is a golden necessity for anyone living with dementia.
‘Belonging’ is a deeply effective play. Yes, it’s upsetting and painful to watch at times and it’s quick wit does make it’s story feel very close to home. But it’s also a privilege. Rarely do we feel truly touched by what we see on stage; rarely do we see illness being talked about so freely. And rarely do we take the time to recognise that there are people who need us to do just that. To just talk. And to be told how to help and to be told that it’s okay to ask a person if they’d like our help. To some that message may seem obvious but seeing what we need to hear on stage brings a certain confidence to an audience. Re-Live have done just that having used theatre so warmly, to help us engage in conversation that would otherwise go unspoken because of the silence that can sometimes surround an illness like dementia.
Karin Diamond along with Peter Doran and their superb cast have tackled a treat of show. It’ll make you smile, cry and laugh- and you may even do all three all at once.
Torch Theatre, Milford Haven- 19th, 20th May
Neuadd Dwyfor, Pwllheli- 24th May
Pontio, Bangor- 26th, 27th May
Neaudd Ucheldre, Holyhead- 31st May
Galeri, Caernarfon- 2nd June
Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon- June 8th