Dementia Diaries / (Dziennik Demencji)
Told through the interweaving monologues of an Anglo-Polish family and their Polish carer, Dementia Diaries explores the troubled relationships within a family struggling to cope with dementia.
Performed by British and Polish actors, this drama for five voices and live music combines tenderness and despair with moments of surreal humour and occasional strong language.
Written by Maria Jastrzębska
Incidental music for flute and cello by Peter Copley
Directed by Mark C. Hewitt for LLL Productons
Poster art: Andrzej Klimowski
Maria Jastrzębska was born in Warsaw, Poland and came to England as a child. Poet, editor and translator, her recent poetry collections include Syrena (Redbeck Press, 2004); I'll Be Back Before You Know It (Pighog Press, 2009); and Everyday Angels (Waterloo Press, 2009). A co-translation with Ana Jelnikar of Slovenian poet Iztok Osojnik's work is forthcoming from Pighog Press this year. She has co-edited various anthologies, most recently Different and Beautiful with John McCullough (Queer Writing South and Allsorts Youth Project, 2010). Her own work has been frequently anthologized, including See How I Land (Oxford Poets and Exiled Writers, Heaven Tree Press, 2009); Telling Tales About Dementia (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2009); Poetry South East (Frogmore, 2010); and This Island City (Spinnaker Press 2010). She was the winner of the Off_Press International Writing Competition 2009. She lives in Brighton. www.south-pole.org.uk
Photo © Tricia Wass
‘Dementia Diaries grew out of a prose poem sequence featured in From Elsewhere on Poetry International Web, and these original poems appear in my recent collection, Everyday Angels (Waterloo Press). The sequence was developed as a drama in collaboration with LLL Productions.'
'I wrote the monologues for the five characters in Dementia Diaries to represent the way family members can sometimes speak without listening to each other. I also wanted to explore responses to and preconceptions about dementia and its impact on families and to look at Polish immigrants of different generations – those established here and those recently arriving.'
Any resemblance to actual events or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Maria Jastrzębska, 2009
Incidental music for flute and cello was composed for Dementia Diaries by Peter Copley and is played live (wherever possible) by the composer (cello) and Anne Hodgson (flute)
"The music is mostly designed to be a portrayal of the inner life of the respective characters and is only in part intended as a commentary on the unfolding action. It is based around ‘Dziś do Ciebie przyjść nie mogę’ (Today I Cannot Come To You), a popular Polish song associated with the underground resistance during the Second World War. While this song would have been well known to the older characters (‘Mama’, ‘Tata’), the younger generation (‘Edzio’, ‘Daughter’, ‘Mrs Alicja’) would probably also be at least acquainted with it by association. It is used in a fragmentary or distorted form throughout and finally quoted in full in the Postlude that concludes the performance."
Peter Copley, 2009
Listen to recordings of the music for Dementia Diaries by hitting the link below.
A number of talented actors have appeared in Dementia Diaries since its first rehearsed readings as part of Eastbourne Festival
Daughter: Laura Freeman
Mama: Anna Korwin - (photo, right)
Mrs Alicja: Agnieszka Korzuszek
Edzio: Sam Booth
Tata: Tim Barlow
Other key cast members during national tour 2011
Daughter: Daisy Whyte
Mrs Alicja: Stamatina Papamichali
Cast for first performance:
Daughter: Daisy Whyte
Mama: Anna Korwin
Mrs Alicja: Julia Krynke
Edzio: Sam Booth
Tata: Piotr Baumann
What people have said
"Dementia has protean manifestations affecting sufferers and carers very differently. This play wonderfully portrays how our own circumstances and fears for the future interact with our personal relationship with the sufferer. Through the use of multiple monologues it emphasised through sensitive and realistic performances the many levels that this disease inhabits us not just as patient but as family and professional and non professional carers."
Dr David Wilkinson (Consultant in Old Age Psychiatry, Memory Assessment and Research Centre, Moorgreen Hospital, Southampton)
"What a great play! It was great to see such an accurate portrayal of the stresses that can develop when someone is living with dementia, conveying the complex feelings and emotions involved."
Lisa Gatward (Dementia Support Worker, Alzheimer's Society)
"Dementia Diaries was marvellous - I would recommend it - touching, sad, funny and thought provoking. Brilliant script, direction and acting. Absolutely fantastic, I am so impressed." Audience member (at Jazz Café POSK, Hammersmith)
“Dementia Diaries was a moving experience ... The drama was intensified by the musical score which beautifully wove the stories together and gave the evening a reflective quality that drew you into this world. Even if you had no experience of dementia, you would be under no illusions of what the impact can be to families and communities by the end of the evening.”
Katie Tearle (Head of Education, Glyndebourne Opera)
“Maria Jastrzebska’s Dementia Diaries is a very powerful play. The characters address you directly as in an Alan Bennett talking heads monologue but here there are the mother and father, both with dementia, and the sister and brother and the carer all speaking directly. It is both hard hitting and at times very funny. As someone who has a family member with dementia I recognized the dilemmas, the anguish, the humour – brilliant writing at its best.”
Janet Sutherland (writer)
"... this is an uncompromising but sympathetic depiction of how dementia affects not just the sufferers but also their family and carers. Jastrzebska has written monologues for each of the five Anglo-Polish characters – they all speak to the audience but never to each other. It’s a clever device to highlight the way family members can often speak without listening when faced with this kind of situation. Sat on either side of a simple set, Tata and Mama both have dementia; their son Edzio complains endlessly about unsatisfactory phone calls; their desperately stressed, unnamed daughter is always at a desk of paperwork and wine; Mrs Alicja, the sweet but frustrated Polish carer quietly busies herself behind them all at a table.
But, before you think this too bleak to even continue reading, let me tell you how much we all laughed – laughed out loud. Odd as it may sound, Dementia Diaries is full of humour. Some might think this is in bad taste, but like me, Joy Watkins, Resource Co-ordinator for Dementia UK had nothing but praise for the play. “Yes, it was both moving and very funny,” she said, post-performance. “Family carers I’ve just been speaking to said it was very realistic and so good to be able to laugh about dementia because it helps them feel able to carry on in what can often be a very stressful and tiring situation.”
Debra Mehta, Care Talk magazine
"It draws not only on the study of dementia but also on the experience and memories of those who experienced the Second World War in Poland which seems to predominate in the memories of the older couple, while the carer, who is also Polish, is a recent economic immigrant.
The presentation of Mama (Anna Korwin), with her sudden shifts from clarity to confusion and delusions which often draw on past experiences, seems very real and Tim Barlow’s Tata (father) in his harping on the past and memory lapses with strike a chord for anyone with elderly relations. Their daughter (Daisy Whyte) is typical of those children struggling with a sense of duty that takes up so much of her time and energy.
Although described as monologues by the producers these are not five separate scenes but many shorter pieces interwoven with each other and framed, separated and sometimes supported by specially composed music which is largely intended to reflect the characters’ inner life. This music, spiky disquieting sections giving way to rich melody, is beautifully played by its composer Peter Copley on cello and Anne Hodgson on flute ..."
Howard Loxton, British Theatre Guide
"All actors are on stage all the time but they are still alone – reading or writing or just staring into space. Anna Korwin is brilliant as Mama – bound to a wheelchair she still manages to feed the foxes with ham that she carries in her handbag – to the horror of her son Edzio (Al Gregg) who is as paranoid about hygiene as his mother, whom he loathes, is about the carer Mrs Alicja (Agnieszka Korzuszek) whom she considers a thief. Meanwhile Tata – a touching performance by Tim Barlow – is content reminiscing about his childhood in Poland and the war. The Daughter (Daisy Whyte) feels completely overwhelmed with the situation and entirely alone whilst Mrs Alicja dreams of being carefree. There are moments of absurd humour as we learn about the Living with Dignity shop or when Mama asks: “Did you bring your horse today?”
The musical score performed by Peter Copley (composer / cello) and Anne Hodgson (flute) weaves the stories together. Each piece is associated with a particular character in the play and designed to be a portrayal of the inner life of the respective characters. Disturbing but joyful at times the music sets the mood for the play and the characters."
Carolin Kopplin, UK Theatre Network
Designer, illustrator Andrzej Klimowski was born of Polish parents in London in 1949 and trained at St Martin's School of Art before studying at the Academy of Fine Art and working professionally in Warsaw. This East-European legacy deeply influences his work. He has designed posters and book jackets and made short films and books. Influenced by early 20th century photo-collage, Surrealism, Dada and Expressionism, his own personal style, combines fantasy, anxiety, ambiguity and eroticism. He is current Head of Illustration at the RCA. and was recently the subject of a retrospective at the Theatre Museum in London. www.klimowski.com
LLL Anglo-Polish Season 2009. Financial support from Awards for All Big Lottery Fund and East Sussex Arts Partnership.
2010/11. Research and development work and culminating performances funded by an Arts Award from the Wellcome Trust.
2011. Touring additionally supported by Arts Council England
Financially supported by a Wellcome Trust Arts Award. The grant has allowed LLL Productions to meet and talk with research clinicians, nurses, therapists and doctors based at the Memory Assessment and Research Centre (MARC) in Southampton with a view to enhancing the authenticity of the production and collaborating on the content of the production's printed programme. We are thankful to The Nuffield, Southampton, for generously supporting this research and development phase.
The Wellcome Trust is a global charity dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests. www.wellcome.ac.uk
Eastbourne photos by Jol Grus
Southampton photos by Candida Lucca