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New North theatre work highlights challenges posed by dementia

Jack and Jill & The Red Postbox is a new play arising from research carried out by Northumbria and Edinburgh universities

Kevin Gibson Simon Tarrant and Claire Webster Saaremets in Jack and Jill & The Red Postbox
Simon Tarrant and Claire Webster Saaremets in Jack and Jill & The Red Postbox

Dementia is a fact of life for an increasing number of people, as Newcastle-based Skimstone Arts will tell you.

The theatre company, based at Newcastle Arts Centre, has been looking into the implications of the disease – although, strictly speaking, dementia is an umbrella term for many different mental conditions usually associated with ageing.

The company, which specialises in contemporary social issues, will be highlighting the increasing prevalence of dementia with a new play called Jack and Jill & the Red Postbox.

Skimstone’s artistic director, Claire Webster Saaremets says: “Jack and Jill & The Red Postbox asks us to think about our own stories of people we know, who live with dementia, with humour, sensitivity and the magic of theatre.”

The production, billed as a multi-media and physical theatre performance with original music and projection, invites the audience to follow the considerable changes in the lives of Jack and Jill and their children, Lucy and Peter, due to a diagnosis of dementia.

The theatre work – Skimstone don’t call it a play – was inspired by 89 anonymous transcripts collected during a research project by Northumbria and Edinburgh universities. It was called Risk and Resilience: Living with Dementia.

Additional research was carried out by Skimstone Arts, collecting stories from friends, family and the public about the challenges, special moments and changes in relationships which come with the onset of dementia.

The real-life testimonies were used to create the fictional work which is being presented today as part of this year’s Jesmond Community Festival and also to mark Dementia Awareness Week (May 17-23) co-ordinated by the Alzheimer’s Society.

Kevin Gibson Simon Tarrant and Claire Webster Saaremets in Jack and Jill & The Red Postbox
Simon Tarrant and Claire Webster Saaremets in Jack and Jill & The Red Postbox

Among the statistics coming to the fore this week is that in 2015 there are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK and the number is set to hit the one million mark by 2025.

Several organisations in Jesmond have formed a steering committee to look at establishing the neighbourhood as ‘dementia-friendly’ along the lines of initiatives supported in other areas by the Alzheimer’s Society.

Chris Clarke, of Jesmond Community Forum, said: “We are delighted Jack and Jill & The Red Postbox will be performed as Jesmond Community Festival.

“We hope the performance will help raise awareness of dementia and raise important funds to support the development of the Jesmond dementia-friendly community initiative so we can support those in our local community living with dementia.”

The performance takes place at 7pm on Tuesday, May 19 at Newcastle Royal Grammar School’s Performing Arts Centre, Eskdale Terrace (right beside Jesmond Metro Station) and tickets can be booked in advance from Jill Graham on 0191 2128930 but will also be available at the door.

Afterwards there will be a discussion of how the piece was made and the issues raised.

Details of Jesmond Community Festival, which runs until May 23, can be found at www.jesmondfestival.org.uk

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