One in six people in the UK over the age of 80 have some form of dementia and by 2025 it is estimated there will be one million sufferers.
As Leeds playwright Brian Daniels says: “most of us know of someone with dementia or have a relative suffering from the disease. It is now everyone’s biggest fear and has taken over from cancer.”
Because of this fact his play, Don’t Leave Me Now, which examines the impact of early onset dementia, is an important and emotionally powerful work.
The play toured a dozen venues in 2014 and is coming to Huddersfield University campus on Wednesday, February 11, when it will be given a performed reading.
Brian, former artistic director of the New End Theatre Hampstead and producer of more than 200 new plays, began writing his own material a decade ago and has penned works exploring a range of social issues. He started work on Don’t Leave Me Now back in 2013 after a friend approached him with a journal that she had written chronicling her partner’s struggle with dementia. “She had written about what it was like caring for someone living with it,” explained Brian. “It was an unassuming love story. I then found another couple in the same care home and created the first draft of a play.”
Those working with dementia patients and their families have been particularly interested in the play but it offers an insight into the condition that sufferers and carers can empathise with. Brian says the play has evolved over the past year following feedback from audiences with experience of dementia. “I didn’t approach the pain and difficulty of letting go of somebody, even when they are quite advanced on their dementia journey,” he said. “Carers want to keep them at home and see it as a defeat when they have to let them go. They feel a strong sense of duty and love.”
Dementia UK, the charity that provides Admiral Nurses to support families of dementia patients, has endorsed the play, which follows the true stories of Rachael Dixey, Professor of Health at Leeds Metropolitan University, who nursed her partner through dementia for a decade; and Cindy Toulman, whose husband Chris has been a patient at a nursing home for the last 10 years.
Don’t Leave Me Now takes the format of a documentary and is infused with humour. Carers need a sense of humour, says Brian, and often find solace in laughter.
While researching dementia, of which he had no personal experience, he spoke to Sally Magnusson, author of Where Memories Go, whose mother had Alzheimer’s. He also recalled his days working with the actress Prunella Scales, another dementia sufferer. “Even eight or nine years ago I could tell she wasn’t herself. When she was on stage she was perfect but off-stage she was all over the place,” said Brian.
One of the aims of Brian’s work is to raise awareness of dementia and help to remove the stigma carried by the disease. “People do feel ashamed of it,” he said, “particularly in Asian families. But we need to be talking about it as it’s going to affect an awful lot of people in the future.”
Brian will be one of five actors performing Don’t Leave Me Now in the university’s Harold Wilson building. The event starts at 2pm and will be followed by a discussion on dementia. Tickets are free but need to be reserved on 07740 372333 or firstname.lastname@example.org. A suggested donation of £6 is requested by those who can afford to pay.