After many years of caring and working for people with a diagnosis of dementia I had seen many people who were locked in by their illness, seemingly unable to respond to any of the positive stimuli placed before them by both professional carers and the members of the person’s family.  As such I was extremely interested in seeing a performance of Sharing Joy, especially as it was designed around entertaining and stimulating a person who had dementia.

I first saw the show a year ago with my fellow members of staff at the Atrix theatre; to say that I was more than a little apprehensive as to what I was going to experience was an understatement. I was also very interested as to whether this would be suitable for the patients that I worked with in the NHS who were mostly at the more progressed stage of their illness.

To my delight I laughed and smiled throughout the show and was captivated by the faces of the people there who had dementia who had been invited.  They interacted beautifully with the performance, one lady holding her husband’s hand during the wedding scene, an act of love and recognition which her husband told us that he had not seen in at least 2 years since her dementia had progressed.  After seeing the show I turned to my manager and told her that “we really need to bring Vamos Theatre to New Haven”.

We all know that money is tight in the NHS. So I knew that if I wanted Vamos Theatre at New Haven then I needed to put a strong case forward as to how I thought that it would enrich the patients’ experiences on the ward, as well as help to bring new initiatives in patient interaction to the staff.  Having received the backing from the hospitals charitable fund, I simply booked the show on line and waited for the day to arrive.  

I had plenty of support from the Vamos Theatre team with regards to what they needed to bring their show to the ward and what was required from the ward team to ensure that the patients received the best experience.  The Vamos Theatre team arrived well before time and started to transform the ward's meeting room from a large open, corporate space into a room full of colour and smiles.  The New Haven staff who were in attendance were well briefed as to what was required from them and, looking at their faces, they were both bemused and excited as to what they were going to see.

The staff and patients arrived at 2:45pm and by 3:10pm we were up and running.  I personally did not see much of the show as I was just enjoying watching the patients’ faces as the performers interacted with them.  A patient, who can present as both agitated and extremely vocal, sat and smiled, clapped and even whooped at the show, her face fixed on the performers.  Another lady, who just prior to the show was agitated and angry on the ward, had told staff that if she did not like the show that she would “walk out”.  That lady laughed all the way through the show, in between singing and interacting  with the performers.

At the start of the show one patient who had become quite insular and solitary on the ward - he hadn’t spoken in two months - started to walk in and out of the room in an unsettled state.  After 30 minutes, he settled and started to react to the music, eventually singing along with the Elvis records playing as the performers donned their best Elvis outfits.  This both surprised the staff and brought smiles to their faces, as this was a reaction we did not expect to see.  All the patients loved the show; they smiled, laughed and interacted with the fantastic performers.  The families who were also invited enjoyed the interaction with their loved ones and thanked the ward for booking such an inspiring show.  

This has opened up thoughts of a new collaboration between Vamos Theatre and New Haven to help to bring performance and well-being to the patients currently on the ward - watch this space.  As for myself, I am an old cynic who went along to my first show with great trepidation and rather a lot of bemusement as to what I was going to see.  I now remain an ardent fan of Vamos Theatre, their shows and their fantastic performers.  You could not put a price on the sheer enjoyment on the faces of both the patients and the staff whilst they watched and took part in the show. I wish I could say that my booking Vamos Theatre was an act of genius, but the real genius is the writing and performing of the show.

Thank you, Vamos Theatre.     

Paul Stokes  
Assistant Clinical Practitioner:
New Haven Unit, Princess of Wales Community Hospital, Bromsgrove.