New theatre dramas tackle dementia taboos in Wales

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Media captionFrancine Morgan plays Sheila, here describing what it is like to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

Two new dramas are hoping to raise awareness of the impact dementia has on Welsh communities.

Belonging is touring Wales while Before I Leave by National Theatre Wales opens at Sherman Cymru in Cardiff next week.

Patrick Jones, who wrote Before I Leave, said he was inspired by choirs set up for people with dementia.

He said he was commenting about "how in the age of the Big Society, people who don't have much are coming together and are helping each other out".

Before I Leave tells the story of members of a dementia choir in the south Wales valleys.

It includes a new song by Jones' brother, Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers, as well as a soundtrack of traditional songs and covers by artists, including Sir Tom Jones.

Image caption Llion Williams (Morys) said there had been an 'emotional response' from families seeing Belonging

Jones said the play touched on difficult aspects of the valleys' past, including the miners' strike, but it wasn't a "big, angry, bleak" drama.

"It's about the redemptive power of song and of people coming together," he said.

"It touches on our heritage as well, but ultimately it's looking to the future and saying 'this is how our society could function,' with people coming together, singing and sharing their stories."

Another drama about dementia, which affects 45,000 people in Wales, is already touring the country.

Belonging tells a number of different stories, one of which focuses on the struggle facing some Welsh-speaking dementia patients to receive treatment in their native language.

Dementia patients are sometimes known to revert to their first language as the condition worsens, creating a situation which can add to an already confusing time for Welsh-speaking dementia sufferers and their families as they seek professional help.

Actor Llion Williams, who plays dementia patient Morys, said the situation was a "concern" among Welsh speakers.

Image copyright National Theatre Wales
Image caption Before I Leave is about a choir in Merthyr made up of people with dementia

He said: "I live up in north Wales and generally people within the profession are aware of it happening - with the Welsh language in particular - and attitudes generally are healthy, but maybe there are individuals where this needs to be drawn to their attention."

Cler Stephens, who plays Morys' wife Mags, added: "A lot of frustration can come out of that - when there's no communication, even if they're reaching out to communicate."

While performances of Belonging are open to the general public, special matinee productions have attracted a large number of healthcare professionals and families who are living with dementia.

Alison O'Connor, co-director of Re-Live theatre company which has produced Belonging, said: "We've had packed audiences and a real mix of people, which we're delighted about.

"Some people came along purely to see a piece of theatre and they've gone away saying 'Wow, I've seen something that makes me feel and think differently.'

"An audience member came up to us and said 'I now feel, if someone in my family has a dementia diagnosis, I'm not going to be scared. I understand a bit more about how to be with someone, reduce the fear'."

  • Belonging continues its tour in Milford Haven from 19 May, then Pwllheli, Bangor, Holyhead, Caernarfon and Brecon. Before I Leave is at Sherman Cymru, Cardiff from 27 May-11 June.

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