Reviewed by Jenny Bray
Still Alice is a thought-provoking production about the impact of young-onset dementia on a bright, educated woman called Alice, played by Sharon Small.
Still Alice originated as a book, by Lisa Genova, which was later adapted to a film. A year before the film was made Christine Mary Dunford had already adapted the story for theatre, which is the version I have just seen. Wendy Mitchell, a person who is herself experiencing young-onset dementia, provided guidance to the cast for this production in order to assist the authenticity of the story and how it is depicted.
The production is relatively simple as theatre goes. The stage is mainly Alice and her husband John’s kitchen at home, with minor changes to include the lounge or change to doctor’s or consultant’s waiting rooms. There is a large screen above the stage that has the month and year on each time there is a change of scene. The understated setting and props work for the kind of production that it is. There are also very few characters, with only 9 actors in total.
The first scene is set in March 2015 when Alice first has a bout of forgetting a word to describe something. Once in June 2015 she forgets her way home when she has gone out for a jog. She also turns 50 and starts looking up menopause symptoms. She decides to share her concerns with her doctor, who refers her for several tests as she thinks it might be something other than just menopausal symptoms.
By December 2015 she is getting more forgetful and forgets how to do something she has done for the past 30 years. By February 2016 she declares that she wishes she could have cancer, as at least then she could fight it.
By July 2017 she has clear moments and not so clear moments. She recalls a conversation with a man sat next to her at the dementia clinic. She says that they were happily chatting away and then neither of them could remember what they were there for!
After this point she goes on to talk about her dementia in a lecture hall. She says that on a good day things can feel normal but that other days are like living in a mixed up Dr Seuss world and that she probably won’t remember it the following day but hopes that they will.
Every time Alice is on stage, her inner self, played by Eva Pope, is alongside her. She often speaks the thoughts that Alice isn’t saying out loud. In the first scene I wasn’t sure who this person was and found this aspect slightly odd at times, although intriguing and witty at other times.
Sharon Small convincingly performed the role of an ever increasingly confused, frustrated and getting fragile Alice amazingly. Martin Marquez played her long-term husband well, initially supporting her as much as he is able to before then querying whether he should prioritise his own career over her. Her son Thomas (Mark Armstrong) and daughter Lydia (Ruth Ollman), dip in and out of the various scenes, depicting their helplessness in being able to affect the situation and the deterioration that they observe in their mother. Aspects of their life, that she will eventually forget, are highlighted along the way.
This was on at the Lyceum, the traditional theatre in Sheffield that houses most of the touring shows. It has a desk when you first walk in and a bar and kiosk for sweets and bottles of drinks on the ground floor. The staff are friendly and welcoming. Be prepared to have your bag checked on arrival although they’re only checking to make sure you aren’t taking your own alcohol in. There are a few cheap car parks around a 10 minute walk from the theatre or the theatre couples up with the local Q parks so you can get the first hour of parking free if you get a ticket from a member of the theatre staff.
This is not an all singing and dancing uplifting show but it is a captivating and compassionate view of a disease that affects many (currently around 850,000 and expected to affect 1 million people in the UK by 2021) and the subject matter is clear and well portrayed. The show is shorter than most at 1 hour 30 without an interval. However, it works well this way due to the subject. It’s an eye opener for a depiction of how early onset dementia affects both an individual and their family as it takes hold.
Tickets cost from £16 to £30 (booking fees may apply).
Still Alice is at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield from 12-15 September 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or call the box office on 0114 249 6000.
Lyceum Theatre, Norfolk St, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S1 1DA | 0114 249 6000