Members of Cardiff and Vale UHB Board, ahead of the September Board meeting, as well as staff from multiple teams including the Younger Onset Dementia team and the Mental Health Services for Older People team, were witness to a very special one-off performance of the play MEMORIA.
MEMORIA is produced by a theatre company and charity called Re-Live; it tells the real-life stories of people who are living with dementia. The entire cast is made up of people living with dementia and their carers and families. Their mantra is “A Memory Shared is Never Lost.”
MEMORIA was first performed in Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff in 2014 and today’s very special performance was made possible thanks to the collaborative effort of Re-Live, the Cardiff & Vale Health Charity, and Dr. Suzanne Wood, Deb Page, and Louise Thompson from the Local Public Health Team.
A play unlike any other, MEMORIA sees a cast, by whom you cannot help but be charmed, interact with one another and reflect on the themes of memory and care but also on their own identities. “There are good days and bad days,” the play begins, “the smallest things can affect you. A constant search for that which I have lost: keys, doors, words… names.”
These lines set the tone for the rest of the performance. As the play moves from act to act, it brings its audience with it on a journey of giddy highs, expressed with the joy of song and dance, to heart-wrenching stories of pain, loss and the despair of searching for (and not always receiving) the help you really need.
At the performance’s heart there is a poignant and powerful poem read by Jill, a widow of a gentleman who lived with dementia. As she recites her account of their experience with the local health service and local authority, one by one the cast who are lined up behind her begin to turn their backs on the audience. “Nothing ever happens” she laments, as the cast keep turning, facing away from the audience and the speaker. She likens the support for which she is searching the waving of Merlin’s wand as if it will take a supernatural force to implement the services needed.
Suddenly, the cast turn back around to face the audience, the front row of which today is made up of some of the most senior people in the Health Board, including its Chair and Chief Executive. “MAKE IT HAPPEN” they shout in a single, unified voice; a rallying cry to one another, a demand and a plea to anyone who’s listening. There was hardly a dry eye in the house.
Reflecting on the performance, Fiona Kinghorn, Interim Director of Public Health, focused on this line, saying “the cast of MEMORIA have laid down a challenge to us as a Health Board and it is our responsibility to deliver. Our ambitious new dementia strategy will create a range of actions to help people and their loved ones live well with dementia, including teams of support around the individual and raise awareness of dementia across our communities in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan and how we can all reduce our risk of developing it through being as healthy as we can be.”
Following the performance of MEMORIA, a session made up of a number of presenters who showcased their work on dementia at the different stages of the journey through the health service of those living with it from prevention, to dementia friendly communities, to caring for carers and specialist services for the UHB’s patients with dementia was facilitated by Cardiff and Vale UHB’s Executive Nurse Director, Ruth Walker. She said, “I’d very much like to thank everyone involved in the organisation and delivery of today’s performances and presentations. It was eye-opening to have the presentation of our good work and best practice side-by-side with the performance of MEMORIA which held a mirror up that reflected not only what we get right but also where we need to improve. I, and I’m sure many others in the audience, will take the words ‘make it happen’ and thoroughly apply it in my day-to-day practice. One in three of us will be affected by some form of dementia in later life so we have the responsibility to act today, not only for the benefit of everyone who is currently living with it, but also to ensure that future generations are properly and adequately cared for.”