Ely writer and actress highlights the challenges of safeguarding dementia sufferers with new play Holding Hands
PUBLISHED: 09:35 14 May 2018
An Ely writer and actress has turned her dad's dementia into a positive by creating a play to highlight the challenges of safeguarding dementia sufferers.
Deborah Curtis came up with the ‘frank, funny and terrifying’ story Holding Hands, which is to be toured and performed by Littleport’s Field Theatre Group, after her life was “turned upside down” when ger elderly father “fell under the influence of dangerous and manipulative individuals.
“I never thought of myself as a particularly privileged person. But I realise that I was. I had a comfortable home life. I had a job that I loved. I had plenty of good friends and colleagues,” said Deborah, who is also the director of Littleport’s Field Theatre Group, as well as a playwright and author.
“My life was busy enough to be interesting and settled enough to be comfortable. I was approaching that time in life when many of the struggles of early family life were done with. And I was looking forward to enjoying the relative peace that is one of the bonuses of middle age.
“All this changed dramatically when my father (who was in the early stages of dementia) fell victim to callous and predatory individuals.
“Among the many devastating effects of dementia is the impairment in the sufferer’s judgment. Dementia sufferers can lose the ability to distinguish between fact and reality, as opposed to fiction and fantasy. This makes them especially susceptible to manipulation and coercion.
“When we intervened to protect him, my family and I became the focus of a sustained campaign of threats, intimidation and harassment.
“This included physical attacks on me, masked men besieging our home and attempts to discredit us with medical and care agencies. I also had a series of false allegations made against me, including several unfounded assault allegations.
“We endured an orchestrated social-media hate-campaign directed at us by the perpetrators.
Hard as this was, the most painful aspect of this situation was to see that my beloved Dad had put his total trust in these people.
“He thought of them as his ‘friends’, and as his grasp on reality crumbled, he refused to believe that they were not as they seemed.
“I am very fortunate, in that I am an educated and confident person, who was well able to advocate on my father’s behalf, and deal with agencies such as the police, social services and medical practitioners.
“Even so, rescuing my father from this situation was a long-drawn-out, all-consuming and at times, desperate struggle. It was a terrifying period in our family’s life. It felt at times as though we were living through a war!
“I am happy to say that the situation was finally resolved. I learned a great deal during this time. In particular, how vulnerable the elderly are to these kinds of deceptions.
“I wanted to share our family’s experiences. And as a writer, the obvious course for me was to write about it.
“The result is a brand-new play, Holding Hands, based on our experiences. Since beginning work on this play I have encountered numerous other people with similar stories to tell of elderly relatives being manipulated or exploited. The play carries a stark message… ‘for every vulnerable person there is a predator … out there.’
“I hope that audiences will find Holding Hands funny as well as frightening. There are certainly moments of absurd comedy amid the drama.
“More importantly, I hope that Holding Hands will provoke debate about the on-going and ever-increasing problem of how to safeguard our vulnerable loved-ones.
Holding Hands producer Jennifer Stevens said: “We are very excited to be bringing this important new work to audiences.
“Dementia is a condition that affects over one million people in the UK, and this number is set to rise. So, Holding Hands is very much a story for our time.
“Our director Thomas Marty and writer/performer Deborah Curtis have created a highly original and enjoyable piece of theatre.”
The Field Theatre Group has received funding from the National Lottery and East Cambs District Council for a touring production of this work.
Rehearsals are underway for Holding Hands and there will be a performance hosted by the new Mayor of Ely, Councillor Michael Rouse, taking place in June to invited guests.