An Evening with Dementia

The comparison between An Evening With Dementia and King Lear is closely drawn. At one point, Trevor T. Smith, the writer and unnamed protagonist of this one-man show, even quotes Shakespeare’s madding king. For me, however, it is this line of Edgar’s that the play calls to mind:

The magnetism of An Evening With Dementia does not emanate from its unflinching realism, but from its creation of structure whilst maintaining the appearance of fragmentariness

   Edgar.                 O, matter and impertinency mix’d!
                              Reason in madness!

                  King Lear, IV.vi

An Evening With Dementia sheds light on the condition slowly liquidating the cognitive faculties of its protagonist--the terrifying indignity of senility. However, like Lear, it also shoots light through the darkness, penetrating the heart of our anxieties about mortality.

Smith begins his hour-long monologue entirely undramatically. Seated and blanketed before the audience as we enter, Smith starts abruptly, as if speaking to himself. We start with some light relief, as Smith jokes about his condition (‘wouldn’t you be depressed if you didn’t know your own name?’) and his tactical attempts to outwit it. He is defiant in the face of illness, saying, ‘I don’t suffer from anything’, pointing out a linguistic nuance which paints the elderly as victims of their own failing health.

Yet, laughter has limited use as an antidote to dementia. As Smith’s speech becomes increasingly circular, his mental collapse slowly bleeding into evidence, the situation becomes increasingly difficult to make light of. However, what we lose in shallow humour we gain in profundity, as Smith’s loss of short-term memory is compensated for by bursts of reminiscence. The childlike blur of Smith’s present consciousness seems incongruous with the vividness with which he catapults us backward to memories of seaside trips with his grandparents (‘they must have been Edwardians’). Yet Smith’s sentiment seems misdirected, his affection for those long deceased burning strong whilst he is unable to recognise his own wife and children.

The magnetism of An Evening With Dementia does not emanate from its unflinching realism, but from its creation of structure whilst maintaining the appearance of fragmentariness. Smith is not here simply to spin a sad story, but to confront us with our prejudices against mental health and our fears of our own corporeality. Though the show ultimately proves an exercise in the mind’s transience, its message endures.

Reviews by Rivkah Brown

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An Evening with Dementia

★★★★★
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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Award-winning sell-out show on both previous visits to the Fringe returns! ‘The most truthful, well-presented one-man show you'll see’ (ExtraExtra.org). ‘The play enlightens, inspires and most importantly teaches what the individual with dementia might want others to understand if he could be the teacher’ (British Medical Journal). It deals in-depth with this heart-rending condition, allowing the audience to empathise with the state of being called dementia. Poignant yet humorous. Ex RSC actor and playwright Trevor T. Smith was nominated best male actor in the Offies awards. Five star reviews on www.aneveningwithdementia.co.uk.

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