Still Alice is now showing in theatres across the UK. Following a best-selling book and Hollywood film, find out how the play about dementia is championing inclusion, both on and off the stage.
Whether or not you have a personal connection to dementia, the play Still Alice is a conversation starter.
Sharon Small’s performance as Alice brings to life the challenges associated with young-onset Alzheimer’s. But it’s not just what happens on stage that has got people talking. A series of ‘relaxed’ showings in local theatres have prompted conversation about dementia-friendly services in our local communities.
The play is relatively short, condensing three years of life into just 90 minutes. But in that time we see a series of emotional snapshots of a family coming to terms with Alice’s diagnosis.
A person-centred approach
One key focus of the play is how Alice’s family respond to her changing behaviour and common social stigmas.
Speaking at a Q&A session in Plymouth, the cast explained how this is something they were keen to get right. In particular, the play shows the value of prioritising the emotions of the person with dementia in the moment.
This sentiment is also carried into the design of the performances themselves. The cast and crew of Still Alice were supported by people living with dementia throughout the production. This includes the development of 'relaxed' performances, designed to be more accessible to everyone affected by dementia.
During these performances, the volume is lowered and lighting is set to a more comfortable level. The theatres also ensure there is a quiet environment outside of the main space. The priority is to enable those living with dementia to maintain an awareness of their environment, and avoid disorientation while watching the play.
Including people with dementia
Mark Brody, who lives with dementia, is part of the group that advised on the relaxed performances at Richmond Theatre. He’s an avid theatre goer who hasn’t let his diagnosis stop him doing the things that he loves:
‘My wife Judy and I still visit the theatre as much as I did before my diagnosis,’ says Mark.
‘I experience difficulty following plots on television and we always watch with subtitles turned on. But I don’t think I have yet been to the theatre when I have had to ask Judy for help with the plot, except for Shakespeare plays.’
Still, Mark feels it’s important for theatres to make changes and be more inclusive for people living with dementia. He explains:
‘I think it is easier to help those watching television - by turning on subtitles and pausing programmes which enables someone to explain what is going on - than watching a play or pantomime. I suggested having volunteers on hand to quietly explain what is happening to help people follow the plot. Staff should also be warm and friendly and need to be training to recognise a person with dementia.’
The message of Still Alice
The introduction of relaxed screenings in places like Richmond and Plymouth is a positive example of how to create fulfilling, dementia-friendly environments.
This idea of fulfilment is a major takeaway from the play too. Despite its honest yet emotionally difficult themes, a clear note of positivity shines through. At one point, Alice herself gives a moving speech-monologue to this effect. Facing the audience, she states ‘I’m not someone dying, I’m someone living with dementia!’
It’s this message that is so important to remember. As a disease that will affect one in three people, we will all be people affected by dementia in our lifetime. Indeed the cast have spoken of their personal experiences, and as the curtain falls you can hear the audience sharing their own stories.
These stories can lead the way to understanding, helping us all strive towards a dementia-positive society.
Activity ideas for people with dementia
Read our ideas and tips for people with dementia to keep active and involved, both at home and in the community.