The story of a Rothwell couple who attend dementia friendly performances at West Yorkshire Playhouse has been told on BBC1’s Look North programme.
Tuesday 17 January saw the dementia friendly performance of Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom The Musical, welcoming people living with dementia and their friends and family to experience an adapted performance where audience members are sensitively supported.
Throughout the day, BBC Look North followed the journey of Peter, who lives with dementia, and his wife Nancy. The camera followed the pair as they left home, arrived at the Playhouse and attended a pre-show singing session with some of the Strictly Ballroom The Musical cast members.
For people living with dementia, singing sessions can enhance their experience by encouraging them to engage with the music of a performance. The camera caught Nancy and Peter singing recognisable songs from the show including Love Is in the Air, Happy Feet, Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps and Time After Time before following them into the auditorium to share the buzz of anticipation with other audience members as they waited for the show to start.
Dementia friendly performances were innovated by West Yorkshire Playhouse, with White Christmas being the first performance adapted to meet the needs of people living with dementia in 2014.
The Strictly Ballroom The Musical dementia friendly performance adaptions included rebalancing sound and lighting levels in consultation with people living with dementia, and the cast paying particular attention to the pace and clarity of storytelling. A meet and greet with cast and audience members after to the show enabled people to share their own experiences of music, dance and theatre.
Nicky Taylor, the Playhouse’s Community Development Manager, said “Many people with dementia have spent a lifetime attending theatre, concerts and music halls. A diagnosis of dementia can reduce confidence and increase isolation, leaving people with dementia and their supporters less likely to attempt such trips. Our aspiration is to increase opportunities for people living with dementia to access life-enhancing shows, reconnecting them to their local cultural venues and their communities.”
Talking about the positives of living with dementia, Peter and Nancy said “We have lots of lovely friends and get out so much. Our life is different – but it’s a full life and a rich life.”
Another audience member explained why this was an important day for her family: “Things have been difficult and so the opportunity to spend an afternoon at the theatre brought us so much joy. My husband loved the show – meeting the fabulous cast after was the cherry on the cake. I really appreciate them doing that for all of us, it made it so special. Having a dementia friendly performance took so much anxiety and pressure off me, and we all were able to relax and enjoy the performance.”
Our access partner Irwin Mitchell sponsor accessible performances. Elinor Gilles of Irwin Mitchell joined us for our Strictly Ballroom the Musical dementia friendly performance and pre-show singing session.