It has been said that the one ‘mercy’ dementia offers is that the person who has it doesn’t know they do; so it is with the emotive subject of this solo play written and performed by Cheltenham-born writer and actor Howard Timms. Reflecting back on his mother’s latter years in a care home, slowly but surely losing the memories that ‘made her smile unique’, this is as much about the thoughts and feelings of those who see the person they knew slowly fading away into a second childhood. Although, as he explains, he could occasionally reconnect with the mother he remembered by singing her favourite songs.
With a simple enough collection of props to suggest his mother’s room in the care home, the focus is very much on Timms as he talks about his mother’s last few years, slipping from present day hindsight to the stressed days of visiting his mother and never knowing what to expect. On good days, she’d remember both Timms and other members of the family; on bad days she could barely remember who she was, let alone who’d she’d met.
Initially, it has to be said, the frail, falsetto voice Timms gives his mother is somewhat distracting and clichéd. However, it grows on you and is nuanced with thought and memories, such as when he relates the occasion when his mother had a stroke and was not expected to survive a second. As it turned out, she did; indeed, she was able to enjoy a remarkably carefree second childhood for the best part of five years. At the time, Timms was determined to ensure she was happy; if that increasingly required him to metaphorically walk in her father’s – his grandfather’s – shoes, then so be it.
Timms does a good job of suggesting the frustration, agony, and occasional elation that comes from sharing time with someone with dementia. He also has a good singing voice, whether as himself or his mother and a natural ability to quickly switch from one voice to the other without losing momentum or narrative clarity. The simplest of changes help underscore who’s who; his mother, for example, is always sitting under her warm blanket.
Dementia is far from a fun subject, but Timms’ treats it in a touching and respective manner; yet I wouldn’t expect anything less from someone who has been in that situation. After all, when it’s come to dementia, he’s reporting from that most personal and complex of front lines.