" Their stories remain their stories no matter what forever - Cindy Diver director The Keys are in the Margarine "
The Keys are in the Margarine – a verbatim play about dementia explained

Dr Susie Lawless, producer, and Cindy Diver, director of the New Zealand verbatim play The Keys are in the Margarine, gave delegates to the recent 30th Alzheimer’s Disease International and Alzheimer’s Australia conference in Perth a rare treat, explaining and performing parts of the play about dementia.

Working as a GP, Dr Lawless witnessed first-hand the stigma people with a diagnosis of dementia and their families faced.

Witnessing the added burden this stigma placed on people living with dementia and their carers as they also dealt with the diagnosis and illness, Dr Lawless set about bringing their stories to life using verbatim theatre.

Dr Lawless wanted to share the voices of people living with dementia and their carers with the wider community to educate the public and reduce the stigma.  

“We brought together a Kaitiaki group, an advisory group of people who are experts in medical ethics, the legal issues of consent, spirituality at the end of life, Maori health and verbatim theatre,” Dr Lawless said.

“We consulted with this group throughout the process and through the issues of working with such a vulnerable population with whom the issues of gaining informed consent are particularly difficult.

“We developed a three-stage consent process that involved gaining consent from the participants themselves, the collaborators, assent from their legal next-of-kin and an assessment from their doctor that they were able to understand what they were consenting to for involvement in our play.”

The collaborators’ stories were filmed and edited down into a documentary which was studied extensively by the actors. The voices of the respondents are fed to the actors via an earpiece during the performance.

Ms Diver explained some of the ethical considerations as an actor in bringing to life the stories of people who are living with dementia and their carers, as told in their own words.

“Their stories remain their stories no matter what forever,” Ms Diver said.

“What makes this form of theatre so different from traditional theatre is that the story is entirely drawn from the filmed interviews with our collaborators. The actors then work from this film to learn every hand gesture, every eye movement, every vocal nuance, every pause, every vocal intonation that the collaborator gave us.

“During the show the actors are fed the vocal score into their ears via a transmission system and they speak in time with the collaborator’s voice in their ears. This keeps them honest and it keeps them in sync to the rhythms and to the nuances of the original testimony and stops them from creating, from making it up, from doing what we actors do – which is make it up.”

Dr Lawless said when the collaborators’ original interviews were analysed there were dozens of common themes which stood out and went on to form the structure for The Keys are in the Margarine.

Some of those themes explored in the play include: early signs of dementia; diagnosis; driving and dementia; social isolation, and loss of intimacy for both carers and the person living with dementia.

The play took six years to become reality and cost $12,000 (NZD) to research, develop, rehearse and produce. It premiered in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 2014, had a sell-out season, and was awarded Best Script in the 2014 Dunedin Theatre Awards. The story of the play, with filmed excerpts and live action, featured at the RNZCGP conference and the Alzheimer’s NZ annual conference in 2014, and now at the 2015 Alzheimer’s Disease International and Alzheimer’s Australia conference in Perth.

For more information about The Keys are in the Margarine visit the Talking House Tour 2015 website.

 Posted: April 22nd, 2015

Annette said:

I too would like to read the script.

Dementia Daily Team said:

Hi Tenielle. Probably best to go straight to the producers for this. Here's the link to their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/events/791633777513882/ Good luck!

Tenielle said:

I was wondering if there's any way to acquire the rights to put this play on in Australia for the 2016 melbourne fringe festival.

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