Health: Special Leeds show so all can enjoy the theatre

White Christmas
White Christmas
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Going to a stage show is now possible for people with dementia. Katie Baldwin found out how.

Going to see a festive show is a Christmas tradition for many people.

But for people with dementia, it’s an tradition they may not be able to experience.

Visiting an unfamiliar theatre, with unknown or disorientating sights and sounds, and the expectation of sitting quietly to watch a performance may well be something that people with the condition or their carers feel would not be achievable.

So West Yorkshire Playhouse, which already runs a number of creative projects with people with dementia, is aiming to change that.

Next Tuesday will see its first ever Dementia Friendly Performance, of its festive show White Christmas.

The hope is that not only will audience members be able to feel confident about coming along to the production, seeing the show may also stimulate their senses.

Nicky Taylor, community development manager at the Playhouse, said: “White Christmas is the perfect show to try this out – it’s familiar to many people and it’s a story full of compassion and friendship.

“There’s a good selection of music and there are some wonderful dance numbers. Even if you can’t follow the story completely, you can enjoy the music and the dancing.”

It was the isolation of dementia which first gave Nicky, who runs arts and wellbeing projects at the theatre, the idea.

“From the stories people tell us in our creative sessions, living with dementia can be an extremely lonely experience,” she said.

“It is a very challenging condition but it is possible to live well with the right support.”

She said that as a community arts organisation, they wanted to make their performances more accessible to everyone.

Relaxed Performances, aimed at people with learning disabilities, have seen subtle changes made to productions. They have been a huge success and the concept has been taken on board by theatres across the country.

A number of small but significant changes are planned for the Dementia Friendly show, all based on the wishes of people with dementia themselves.

“A lot of the time people with dementia are written off and told they can’t have opinions but that’s not accurate,” Nicky said.

“We can take a lot and learn a lot from people living with the condition.”

Loud and dramatic sound effects will be toned down, while the house lights will be kept partially up.

There will be a relaxed attitude to movement and verbal responses, seats left empty and the space for people to stand.

Outside the auditorium, staff will be sensitive to people’s needs, there will be extra signage and students from Leeds City College and pupils from New Bewerley Community School in Beeston will be at the show.

“It’s the same show, just with the edges softened a little bit,” Nicky said.

“We are trying to make sure we have thought of everything people might experience.”

In the run-up, a series of singing sessions have been held with community groups introducing songs from the show, so they are more familiar.

People living with dementia said the show was a great idea.

Jo Bennett said: “For a couple of hours I no longer had dementia, I never thought about it for the whole time, but I wouldn’t have had the confidence to come on my own, I just wouldn’t try, so support staff and good signage are so important – it makes you feel safe and confident and it’s a big lift altogether.”

Eric Batten added: “When we know things have been made a bit easier with thoughtful adjustments it makes for a happy occasion for people with dementia.”

And Chris Armitage said: “I’m sure productions like this will encourage the confidence of other people with dementia, and the pleasure they gain from this will encourage them to keep going out.”

* Tickets can be booked through West Yorkshire Playhouse Box Office on 0113 213 7700. For more information on the Dementia Friendly performance, which is being sponsored by law firm Irwin Mitchell, call Nicky on 0113 213 7296.