Writer &Director: Tanya Meyers
Reviewer: Farhana Shaikh
Based on participant observation in a dementia ward, Inside Out of Mind offers a rare glimpse of what it’s like to care for dementia patients.
This is a ward like no other, for this is a ward with no name. This is a ward where dementia patients sit losing their real memories, forging new ones, entirely made up. The patients and carers, mostly HCAs, share the same fate. They are forgotten souls. The patients, desperate to cling on to their minds, struggle to manage even the simplest of tasks. Their carers – the HCA and nurses who run the ward as best they can, are simply left to it, rarely supported by doctors, who make flying impersonal visits.
Mr P is desperate to escape the ward, he disrupts the carers and other patients with his constant banging on the door in his failed attempts. When he does manage to escape, the ward staff deal with the matter calmly, to find that he returns of his own accord, fresh red roses in hand. Gertie retells the same story over and over, Nancy lies waiting to die. Youth, the ethnographer is making observations of her own. The staff are suspicious at first but soon warm to her caring manner, for she is genuinely interested in dementia and dementia care.
Despite being over worked, over stretched and at worst, ignored, the ward staff maintain a jovial mood throughout, making the best of a difficult situation. In the second half we’re given factual insights and although these are delivered powerfully by the cast, they are thrown in dispersed among the narrative, somewhat oddly. We’re told that HCA’s are treated with little respect by their superiors, are the lowest paid. It makes for grim observation. There are a number of times like this, that the play feels like it is reaching conclusion, when Grace opens the window to let Nancy’s soul fly, when HCA Keith has a rant, only to start off again. Perhaps this symbolises the often higgledy piggeldy, upside down world of dementia but it translates awkwardly on stage.
The set design – a metal screen divider, lockers that double up as beds, and a set of chairs and tables work well to give the insular environment of a hospital ward. The digital projections help to exemplify the mystic world of the ward’s patients. Books flutter, a spider hangs by the visitor reception desk, a waste paper bin sits by a wall – often misused by the patients who throw away things they have no use for – including the sister’s on call phone.
The cast are brilliant – and entirely believable. The 9 strong cast, double up to play patients and carers. A special mention for Maxine Finch who is spectacular as RGN Grace and had our audience in stitches in her portrayal of dementia sufferer, Elsie. Jim Findley also stands out in his rôle of Mr Bisset, losing the love of his life, Anna to the disorder.
Tanya Meyers has done well to create a play based on 600,000 research field notes that offers real insights on how best to care for dementia patients. But at just under two hours, the play could have the same effect in a shorter time. Compassionately written, with laugh-out-loud moments it provides light relief for anyone who has been touched by the disease, and to those who are keen to understand how society will cope with its ageing population.
Photo: Alan Fletcher | Runs until Friday 27 March