Luke Adamson’s Black Coffee Theatre aims to tell stories that are accessible to all. His characters speak like normal people and are easy to identify with. The story of One Last Waltz is deceptively simple, but multi-layered. It explores what it is like to have Alzheimer’s, or care for someone with the disease, in a very real, matter of fact way.
The play begins with the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s, when lapses of memory don’t feel too worrying, and can be laughed about. Alice is becoming more and more forgetful. Her daughter Mandy is always on hand to help, as well as being a single mum with two teenagers to look after, but the strain is becoming too much. Mandy becomes increasingly aware that something isn’t “quite right”, and not sure how to deal with it with Alice. A long-forgotten photograph stirs a memory and lures Alice back to the Crown Hotel in Blackpool. When Mandy meets Georgette, the manager of the Crown Hotel, and hears her story, the realisation kicks in.
When I saw the casting for One Last Waltz, I knew I had to apply. I have a great deal of personal experience with Alzheimer’s – my father died with it, and my mother is living with it. When I read the script, I was immediately struck by Luke’s understanding of the illness, based on his personal experience with his grandfather, and his extensive research. But I was also impressed by the humanity and humour that he has brought to the play. Because there can actually still be laughter in life when living with Alzheimer’s, or caring for someone with the illness, and coming to terms with the disease.
Alzheimer’s seems to manifest differently in each person with the disease. I remember all too well my father’s rapid decline and aggressive behaviour, whilst always remaining loving to me. Alice’s story is much more similar to my mother’s. My mother always made the best mince pies and was known for her amazing pastry. The alarm bells started ringing for me when I visited one day and she had got some Cookeen out of the fridge to soften to make the mince pies that day. The next time I visited a few days later, that Cookeen was still sitting on the worktop, now unusable. She has no idea how many days it had been there. Then her car acquired a few dents, then a few more, and when I had hard evidence that she had caused the dents, I had to call the DVLA and report her, which was awful. She lost her licence, her routine changed and so she got worse. And so it went on. I had some support from a wonderful woman who worked for the local Alzheimer’s Society, who eventually helped me make the very difficult decision that my mother would actually be happier in a care home. She was a lifeline. Help is out there.
I identify so strongly with Mandy, at that age when you are torn between your children and your parents needs which at times can be overwhelming. She is frazzled and just trying to do her best.
One Last Waltz looks at the impact of Alzheimer’s on the whole family and addresses some of the dos and don’ts. Don’t shout, try to stay patient, don’t keep using the word “remember”.
Luke has written a warm, human story that is relevant to anyone going through this journey with a parent or grandparent, at whatever stage of the disease. Just to have one’s situation normalised and to see that you are not alone can be a gift.