By Isabella Fraser
Entering the room, we encounter an old man seated in his armchair, covered with a woolen blanket and looking at us in a confused manner. Entirely representative of a typical care home inhabitant, this is a familiar, if sad, sight. When writer and performer Trevor T Smith (formerly of the RSC) begins to talk however, we really see the mischievous side of his character, the person he once was. This man admits he really cannot remember very much but gives us great tips on how to deal with such difficult questions such as: “What did you have for your lunch?” He cannot remember; indeed, he cannot remember having had any lunch, but it does let him know that it is afternoon, because he does not know what time it is.
This is a gentle look at dementia and therein lies the crux of it. This is not the fierce, angry, violent side of dementia; it is the other side of the person who is still themselves somewhere within their own head, just somewhat confused but playing the game of not letting on, finding the safe zone to keep to. With that, Smith has brought out what is heartbreaking about the effect dementia has on those around the person who is ill – that they no longer recognize you and will constantly repeat the same information to you. When Smith discusses the old woman who has been to visit him and the younger man who reminds him of someone, there are audible sighs of realisation that he does not recognise his own wife and son, as well as understanding of how that would feel. There is even a section of interaction with the audience that manages to be both funny and poignant.
On the day of review, this show was a sell-out. Smith is a skillful performer and brings a nuanced subtlety to the character he plays. By choosing to let us see the person inside, Smith’s writing has reminded us that dementia masks a complex human being. The action never feels static; indeed there is a great energy hidden behind the mask of dementia. This is a play that reminds us of our fragility but also our great capacity for being.
An Evening With Dementia runs 19, 21, 23 August at theSpace on the Mile at 16.05. Running time is 50 mins.