Award-winning playwright, Brian Daniels, has written a number of plays about families facing health difficulties, including two plays exploring the impact of dementia on family relationships.
Brian’s first play tackling the subject of dementia is called ‘Don’t Leave Me Now’. Brian was inspired to write the play by learning about the experiences of people he knew. He recalls attending a party with his friends Irene Heron and Rachael Dixey, in 1997. It was Irene’s 50th birthday, and Brian remembers the occasion as being joyful and exuberant. “Nobody then could have guessed that ten years later the vivacious and theatrical Irene would be developing young onset Alzheimer’s, and within another five years, would have lost her functioning powers and be living in a care home”. Irene died aged 66 years, in 2013.
Irene and Rachael had been together for 25 years at the time of Irene’s diagnosis. Rachael wrote a daily journal describing the challenges of living with a partner with dementia. She invited Brian to read the journal and it was this that gave him the idea to write a play about family life and young onset dementia.
In the latter years of he life, Irene was cared for in a nursing home in Yorkshire. In the same nursing home was Chris Toulman. Chris and his wife Cindy had been married for over 40 years and were a devoted couple. There were early signs of Chris’s problems when he started having difficulty in managing the accounts of his garage business. He would sometimes do the MOT twice on a car, forgetting he had already done the work. Eventually he was diagnosed with dementia and, in time, as his needs became greater, he was moved into a care home. His wife visited him every day, and stayed with him all day, talking to him, feeding him and loving him. Chris died in his early 60s.
With the support of both families Brian embarked on writing these very personal stories. He wanted to explore, through drama, the ways in which dementia impacts on the wider family and whether love ever becomes a duty.
The first public readings of the play were held at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, in 2013. Since then there have been more than 160 play readings throughout the UK and Northern Ireland. Details of upcoming readings can be found here.
Brian’s second play about dementia is called ‘Fighting for Life’. The play is based on the true story of one family’s struggle to get the care that their parents needed as they faced serious health challenges in later life. These struggles, along with recommendations about how things could have been much better handled, are documented in The Findlay Report, written and produced by the Findlay family.
‘Fighting for Life’ provides insight into the heartaches and good times of the main characters, Jim and Joan, demonstrating that these two special people were more than their diagnoses of dementia (Joan) and Motor Neurone Disease (Jim). Their adult children and other family members fought their way through a sometimes chaotic and disjointed health and social care system, in order to get them the care they needed towards the end of their lives. It was a tough fight.
A playreading of ‘Fighting for Life’ will be performed at the annual presentation event of Dementia Pathfinders on 11th July 2018 at Hallam Conference Centre in central London. The event is free to attend, although places do need to be booked (click here to book yourself a place). The reading will be followed by audience discussion and Q&A with Brian, the actors and special guest, Helen Findlay.
Brian Daniels is Artistic Director of the New End Theatre Beyond. Between 1997 and 2011 Brian was Artistic Director of the New End Theatre, Hampstead where he produced more than 200 new plays, musicals and cultural events. He was concurrently Artistic Director of the Shaw Theatre in London and previously at the New Players Theatre and the Grace Theatre.
His latest play ‘Hello, my name is ….’ – about the life of Dr Kate Granger and her husband Chris Pointon, following Kate’s diagnosis of cancer in 2011 – was premiered in May this year at an end of life care conference in Stoke-on-Trent during Dying Matters Awareness Week.
Drama, music, poetry, stories and dance are powerful ways to convey the deep, heartfelt emotions of living with dementia, the dilemmas and challenges that people face and the humour and resilience that enable families to survive. If you have produced or been involved with arts events that focus on describing and exploring the impact of dementia and/or other life-limiting conditions, please do send us details. We would be happy to feature your work in a guest blog. If you are living with dementia or carer for a family member with dementia, and you have witnessed the benefits of being involved with arts activities, please do tell us about your experiences. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at the Unforgettable office.