Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, lifts curtain on dementia-friendly play

"The Garden" by Spare Tyre Credit: Patrick Baldwin

"The Garden" by Spare Tyre Credit: Patrick Baldwin - Credit: Patrick Baldwin

A theatre has taken a bold step to ensure that suffering from dementia should not be an obstacle to enjoying the excitement and delight of a stage show.

"The Garden" by Spare Tyre Credit: Patrick Baldwin

"The Garden" by Spare Tyre Credit: Patrick Baldwin - Credit: Patrick Baldwin

With the largest elderly population in London, Havering is facing a growing number of residents suffering from dementia.

But at Queen’s Theatre, work is being carried out to ensure people suffering from the condition and their carers can enjoy the same exhilarating experience of seeing a live performance.

Artistic director Douglas Rintoul said he was urged to broaden access to the theatre after meeting a woman who had once been deeply involved with its running, but was no longer able to come because she was suffering from dementia.

From the time of day being wrong and the show being too stimulating, to carers being afraid of disturbing the audience if the person talked, there are number of reasons why people with dementia may not come to the theatre.

"The Garden" by Spare Tyre Credit: Patrick Baldwin

"The Garden" by Spare Tyre Credit: Patrick Baldwin - Credit: Patrick Baldwin

“All performance is about well-being and this is no different for people with dementia – it’s just a different part of our diverse audience,” said Mr Rintoul.

Last week, the theatre in Billet Lane, Hornchurch, hosted its first dementia-friendly play The Garden, presented by the participatory art company Spare Tyre.

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Arti Prashar, carer and director explained the hour-long sensory performance was designed for people with advanced dementia.

The small cast, which tours care homes, day centres and community hubs across the country, also does one-to-one performances for bed-bound patients.

“It is about awakening the public’s imagination and bringing the outdoors inside,” she said.

The small audience of about 30 people became immersed in the garden, with earth to touch, flowers to smell, apple juice to taste and the evocative smell of laundry stimulating all of their senses.

Ms Prashar said: “We want to bring everyday activities into the world of people with dementia and their carers.

“I know how stretched carers are, but the play is also for them to get ideas of little things they can do – it’s about affecting change.”

The non-verbal play uses music and allows silences to create a meaningful time for the audience to engage.

From small signs of interaction from those at the most advanced stages of the disease to natural chatter and comments, the performance transforms into a discussion between the two actors and its public.

The audience does not remember the performance and musician Nick Cattermole recalls an occasion of having performed in a care home twice consecutively and one woman telling him: “We have seen something like this before, but you are much better.”

“But for the next couple of hours after the show, people will be in a happy state of mind and more relaxed – and that’s what matters,” added Ms Prashar.

“When people come to the theatre, they come for the moment, to experience joy and excitement or any form of emotions and share those experiences,” explained learning and participation producer at the theatre James Watson.

Around Queen’s Theatre, new signs have been put up helping people to find their way to the exit and the toilets.

And for the first time, this year’s pantomime Cinderella will also be adapted for a dementia-friendly performance, with the number of tickets sold being halved to 250, sound effects turned down and the possibility to come in and out of the show under the supervision of trained staff.

Find out more at queens-theatre.co.uk