Finding Joy

Richard Whiteley Theatre, Giggleswick

BY any standards this was an extraordinary theatrical event. Over an hour long, without a single spoken word, it told the story of elderly Joy and the relationship between her, her daughter and grandson, who act as her carers as she lives with dementia.

As exponents of physical theatre, the actors were stunning. Performing behind large, almost caricature type masks, they "spoke" through their gestures and created characters with whom the audience immediately identified.

Obviously some were more stereotypical than others and were more swift sketches than full blown portraits: the slovenly and unsympathetic care assistant, the cantankerous old lady, the self-important consultant and to a certain extent Joy herself - an overly sweet and vulnerable old lady.

For carers watching the performance it must have rankled that in a play meant to explore the issues around caring for loved ones with dementia the central character was so painfully one dimensional and there was no recognition of the anguish and anger which comes with the descent into confusion when there are still moments of lucidity.

This is not to say the play is unrealistic, at times it is almost painfully too real and I'm sure that at many moments members of the audience were smothering silent tears as they recognised situations they had encountered.

The use of masks meant the characters could actually be anyone's mum, teenage son, granny and so it was easy to relate to them and their silence was eloquent with precise gestures helping the viewer to fill in the dialogue which wasn't being said aloud but was apparent in every carefully choreographed move.

Underscoring this was the cleverly constructed soundtrack which used everyday sounds and vintage music to set the scene and mood of every sequence.

However at the centre there is a gaping flaw caused by the relentlessly rosy picture it constructs of dementia being a "cosy" illness which can be tackled by simply celebrating the joy to be had in life.

This is a very worthy aim but it does make for a very one dimensional and overly sentimental play.

It was an extraordinary theatrical event but I don't feel it was necessarily a one which lived up to its hype.

Gill O'Donnell