It's been a whole year since the last Finding Joy tour ended, a year full of Nursing Lives and Sharing Joy, different masks and music. In preparation for the short rehearsal period, I decided to watch the video we had made near the end of the tour (when we'd finally cracked it!). I had been putting this off, considering it 'work', so I left it to the last possible moment. Finally sitting down for the viewing at midnight the night before rehearsals, I found I was completely immersed and enjoyed it as much as I would any other Sunday night drama. To watch a performance from the outside with a fresh eye, and to really appreciate what the audience experiences, is something we never get to do as actors. So it was a great pleasure for me to find that I thoroughly enjoyed the show and didn't have too many self-criticisms.
It was always rewarding to be part of such a well-researched and moving piece of theatre. I think it took us all by surprise that Finding Joy was seen by many as a training tool for best practice in dementia care. It's fantastic that this has launched workshops, appearances at Care conferences and our annual Sharing Joy care home tour. It is for this reason that Finding Joy has for me been the most rewarding show to tour. Audience members have shared so many stories with us; almost everyone has some experience of dementia. Everyone 'knew' one of the characters; for me the most touching comments were, "I was that grumpy daughter - I couldn't see it at the time but now she's gone". It's no surprise that we're back in rehearsals for a third time, this time to share Audrey and Rowan's true story with an international audience.
This privilege does not come without challenges. We needed to cut the running time down to a maximum of 65 minutes, which we've done by losing a couple of scenes and trimming out minor characters. This was achieved easily thanks to lots of preparation from Rachael (writer, director and now starring actor!), although the lack of an interval has created a lot of backstage management - no casting props aside after you've used them, it's most likely they have to reappear 10 scenes later in the pocket of another actor.
As the only one out of the cast of four to have been in all three versions of the show, I have to admit I've got a pretty easy job. The show is in my body and it comes back relatively quickly, although those who know me will appreciate the difficulty and distress I have if we change those hard-wired movements - they often wish I had a 'reset' button! With memories from the three productions running parallel in my head, I find myself expecting to see a different actor or waiting for a familiar gesture. It is satisfying to revisit these moments, to make them fresh again, keep the best bits from last time and add a new layer of maskwork, story or clarity.
We've got one more week to go before heading to Jyväskylä in Finland...Will Joy remember her handbag? How many times will the fridge door make an unwelcome entrance in the hospital? And one year on, does the vintage dress still fit me....?