Lucy Robertshaw, Arts Development Manager at darts (Doncaster Community Arts) writes about Unlocking Dementia – a play about living well with dementia that will be coming to Tunstall HQ this February.

As a participatory arts company working in Doncaster for 25 years we are often approached by companies who want us to ‘translate’ complex issues to a local audience through the use of art forms such film, drama, music or visual arts. We have an excellent track record of employing creative techniques to get people to tell us their stories and explain how things could be easier for them if people understood more about their health condition or situation.

Doncaster Council approached us to create a brand new performance that would raise awareness of dementia so that Doncaster could become dementia friendly.

In order to make the piece as real as possible and relevant to Doncaster audiences we thought it was vital to talk to as many people as possible about living with Dementia in Doncaster. Our artists talked to adults with dementia and their family and friends at local support groups and Memory Cafes and held creative consultation sessions with professionals, which included social workers, fire and rescue, police, residential care home staff, doctors, Frenchgate (shopping centre) security team and British Transport Police. Our rehearsal room ended up covered with extracts from people’s stories, direct quotes and themes that had emerged from our conversations. From this we used improvisation to create new characters that represented the key challenges that people with dementia in Doncaster had told us about and designed ways of getting the audience to think about how they could support those with dementia to be part of the community.

We’re currently touring schools, businesses, residential care homes and community settings across Doncaster with an interactive performance called Unlocking Dementia. Two actors and myself are excited to be coming to Tunstall on 23 February to perform the piece to staff in order to raise their understanding of people with dementia. Our performance is based on real people’s experiences of living in Doncaster with dementia, as well as the impact it can have on their family members, friends, work colleagues and community. It lasts one hour and has been described as ‘very powerful and moving’ with a ‘good balance of humour and strong messages.’  

We love working with such a broad range of audiences as every performance we do is different depending on how the audience responds. Audience members have commented that the piece ‘leaves people thinking and thinking leads to change‘. Hopefully this engaging way of talking about dementia and thinking about the way we can make small changes will lead to Doncaster becoming more dementia friendly. Small changes can often make a big difference! Throughout the play you will see some synergies with Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends scheme and we signpost into to the organisation as well as other relevant services such as telecare.

After our Unlocking Dementia tour finishes at the end of March we’re hoping that the evidence we’ve gathered from audiences and businesses will convince funders that the play needs to be seen by a wider audience and we can create another tour.

At the moment we have a waiting list of organisations for the performance and we are being contacted daily by individuals wanting to know where they can see the show, which you can preview in the clip, above.

For more information about the play, visit www.thepoint.org.uk or contact @darts_ThePoint