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An innovative and interactive research play designed to explore improving communication involving people with dementia has been made into a film.

The World Turned Upside Down, a part of the University of Exeter-led programme Improving the Experience of Dementia and Enhancing Active Life (IDEAL), had a run of three live theatre performances at the University of Exeter, at Exeter Phoenix and to Exeter College students in January 2022, directed by Selladoor Venues’ Creative Director, Paul Jepson.

In the live plays Director Paul Jepson invited the audience to interact with the stories by suggesting ways the actors could replay scenes to change the outcome. These inputs sparked insightful reflections and ideas on how we can  have conversations with a person with dementia for the best possible outcome for all involved.

After a successful theatre showing, the production team have made a documentary film of the project featuring live performances, rehearsals, and audience reactions which will serve as a resource for anyone interested in dementia.

The documentary film, The World Turned Upside Down, premiered online on 23rd of September 2022 during the World Alzheimer’s month. The film features 83-year-old actress, Gill Cree who made a comeback to acting. It also features actor Sally Geake and Steve Bennett who play multiple roles in this interactive research-led film.

Director Paul Jepson, said: “As I listened to the people living with dementia who we met for the project I was astonished by their courage and ingenuity.  It would be wrong to suggest that the range of feeling was relentlessly positive because these events are clearly extremely unwelcome.  None the less people learn ways to live well.  I was also struck by how hard it is to care well.  A little word that I for one use somewhat carelessly for a very big thing.  I hope that, ably supported as we were, we have made a contribution to helping people understand the value of care and the point of view of all those who live with dementia.”

The Improving the Experience of Dementia and Enhancing Active Life (IDEAL) programme is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)  the National Institute for Health Research (UK) and  is an Alzheimer’s Society Centre of Excellence. IDEAL seeks to understand, and find ways to improve the experience of living with dementia

Dr Claire Pentecost, the Producer of the play and film, said: “We really wanted to make the play seem as authentic as possible, and so we made sure the actors had exposure to real life experiences from people with dementia from our research to develop credible characters. They met with our advisory group on several occasions to ask questions and hear anecdotes about living with the condition.”  

The World Turned Upside Down is free and available to watch below and accompanying materials from the IDEAL programme can be found here.

Image Credit: © Willy Gilder (@willygilder01)