Thursday, 19 February 2015

Review and insight into Inside Out of Mind at Derby Theatre

The best description for the extra-ordinary play 'Inside Out Of Mind' written and directed by Tanya Myers is this passage found on the Nottingham University website.

'Inside Out of Mind' is an innovative new play depicting life on a dementia ward based on research from a team of ethnographers led by Justine Schneider, professor of Mental Health and Social Care in Nottingham University's School of Sociology and Social Policy. The project brought together playwright Tanya Myers with director Stephen Lowe of Meeting Ground theatre group and a team of ethnographic researchers to create a workshop production which brilliantly illustrates the multiple realities of life on a dementia ward. Unlike some theatre commissions which have explicit educational directives or messages to deliver, the playwright was given total freedom with the resulting outcome representing a triumph of imagination and inspiration which has the potential to reach a wide general audience.'

The play delivers even as the audience are finding their seats and in a packed house at Derby Theatre we are given the vision of electrical impulses softly exploding in a complex forest of nerves projected on to the set. The scene is frankly magical and thoroughly magnetic. Not only do we have the visual of the live projection but also live figures abstractly moving about in their duties or in their residence. This surreality is further deepened and enhanced by an amazing soundtrack of voices and music bleeding in and out of the action. This soundtrack is supremely created and orchestrated by David Wilson. The impression is that you are seated in someone's very confused brain listening to the thoughts and outside vocal impressions and trying to make a sense of it all – and failing. As someone who has had a male aged in-law go through dementia and alzheimer's this opening scene, for me, was very moving.

Playwright Tanya Myers has written that she wants the play, written from the heart, to touch people's hearts and judging from the first night audience reactions it certainly did that. You could have heard a pin drop throughout – except for natural reactions to the dramas unfolding and some gentle laughter in appropriate places. So, may we then, as humans, question whether dementia a thing to laugh at? Well, in fact in the programme professor Justine Schneider says this “ The NHS sponsors have been crucial partners in recognizing the importance of enabling all of their staff to have a better understanding of dementia and even to laugh at it: this is a very funny play – people leave laughing.” My humble opinion is this theatrical result is less a laughing at and more laughing with through love and sympathy.

The second half where the 'ward with no name' residents are dressed up to celebrate Halloween is particularly funny. Further on where we are told of, and shown. the emotional impact and the practicalities of a person in care dying - are tenderly and poetically done. The realities of being a member of staff in such a ward are also spoken of – directly and individually to the audience in short monologues. Many of the scenes in the play are beautifully accentuated by projections and multimedia and these lend even more depth – you might say great emotional depth - to an already deep and meaningful subtly nuanced and stylised production. Birds, birdsong and the flight of birds are a common metaphor in this play, to our fleeting life experience as humans and certainly of freedom.

I feel compelled to name all of the actors as they all deeply contribute to the extra-ordinary portrayal of human existence in the dementia ward shown on stage in 'Inside Out of Mind'. Each plays a variety of roles, carer, nurse, doctor, patient, lover or HCA workers and they morph into their new persona as the stories unfold with consummate professional ease. So we have: Robin Bowerman as Mr P aka Gabriel Proust, Joanna Macleod as Muriel/HCA Brenda, Ulrike Johannson as Gertie/HCA Hazel and Lily Lowe Myers as Sophie. The rest of the super cast are Anna Mottram as Anna Bissett/RGN Patricia, Jim Findley HCA Raj/Tom Bissett, Maxine Finch as Elsie/RGN Grace, Robin Simpson as HCA Keith/George/Dr Dido and finally Rebecca de Souza in a fine a sensitive performance as the newcomer nurse Youth.

Without the combined talents of Nettie Scriven (designer), Richard Statham (lighting designer) and Barret Hodgson (digital media designer) 'Inside Out of Mind' and the backing of the University of Nottingham and Lakeside Arts would be a good but a lesser show. The combination of all the creative teams make it extra-ordinary. 'Inside Out of Mind plays until Saturday 21st Feb 2015 at Derby Theatre then tours to the following venues. Catch it while you can – it could change your life or your perception of the lives of others in dementia. Very respectfully – you would be mad not to!

Derby Theatre Wednesday 18- Saturday 21 February

Nottingham Lakeside Arts Tuesday 24 – Saturday 28 February

Canterbury Gulbenkian Theatre Tuesday 3- Friday 6 March

Warwick Arts Centre Tuesday 10 – Friday 13 March

Exeter Northcott Theatre Tuesday 17 – Friday 20 March

Curve Leicester Tuesday 24 – Friday 27 March

For the tweeters amongst us check on all the latest chat on #inoutofmind

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