Truth about memory loss

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The stories of people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and those who love and care for them, will take centre stage in a performance coming to Arrowtown.

Their tales will be told word-for-word, sigh-for-sigh and tear-for-tear.

The Keys are in the Margarine is an emotive ‘verbatim theatre’ production based on years of interviews, which offer a rare insight into the lives of people with a direct experience of the disease.

Dunedin actor and co-writer Cindy Diver captures and expresses those realities “as truthfully as possible” in a humorous but heartbreaking play.

In 2014, Diver and her team began filming interviews with 17 people affected by the disease — those living with the condition, their husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, GPs, care nurses and clinical neurologists.

Very few questions are asked of the interviewees, allowing them to steer the direction of their own storyline and speak freely for as long as they like. Some interviews ran for two hours.

The footage is collated into stories and common themes, and edited into a documentary for the actors to subsequently study.

Four actors play the parts of the 17 people interviewed.

“They learn every hand gesture, every eye movement, every ‘um’ and ‘ah’, every hesitation, their vocal intonation, their pauses,’’ Diver tells Mountain Scene.

“The actors rehearse and perform with an ear piece that transmits the sound from the original interview.

“We try to tell their story as truthfully as possible to represent the story they gave us in their lounges and homes, so the audience is taken on that little journey into the private moment, so they get to see it exactly as it was told to us.”

Diver says many people ask her why she doesn’t just release the documentary version, but she says anonymity is at the heart of verbatim theatre.

It gives an opportunity for important stories to be heard without fear, because people caring for others living with the disease don’t want that person to know they are sharing their story, she says.

“The stories are human, sad at times, but just also drop-dead funny at other times, and it’s about having permission to laugh.’’

September is World Alzheimer’s Month, an international campaign to raise awareness and challenge the stigma that surrounds dementia.

More than 60,000 New Zealanders live with Alzheimer’s disease or a related form of dementia — a number that is expected to triple by 2050.

The Keys are in the Margarine aims to help identify stigma around the condition and provide solace to those impacted, so they know they’re not alone.

“We need to start thinking about how to look after these people, and look after the people looking after them.’’

Diver, who grew up in Alexandra and has many years’ experience in producing documentary-styled theatre, feels honoured to be able to bring the play to her home patch.

“It’s a beautiful play and I really love performing it.’’

The Keys are in the Margarine is supported by Arts on Tour NZ and Brain Research New Zealand.