Voices From Dementia Caregivers On Pangdemonium’s The Father

Pangdemonium’s staging of The Father highlights the journey a family goes through when caring for a loved one with dementia. We speak to our community of caregivers to hear what they thought of the play.
Image Credit: Crispian Chan and Pangdemonium

Galen Yeo, Caregiver to my mother with dementia

I was interested to see how The Father portrayed something that I am familiar with. Would it be realistic? Contrived? Raw? What would I learn from the experience? How would they do it?

The poster of Andre, the main character’s mentally disintegration, sums up the condition of dementia in a powerful image. I actually did expect a much darker psychological experience but was not disappointed. The director and cast did a great job. Though it’s not obvious at first, the structure of the play aims to show the perspective of the world from a person with symptoms of dementia. Reality is constantly in flux. The “truth” is always questionable, and questioned by Andre, and by the audience. Is his daughter really doing or saying certain things to him? Or is this what he wants to believe? The audience is never sure if the story as it unfolds is actually what is happening, or if it is Andre, slowly losing his grip with reality.

The play is never specific about the causes of Andre’s dementia, and we’re not shown if he was ever diagnosed. What we do see is that his daughter is struggling to help him in whatever way she thinks is best. Unfortunately, the final solution is not what Andre wants at the end of the day, but he has no choice but to accept it. I think this is quite a relevant point in terms of how people with dementia feel about their condition. Something inside tells them this isn’t right, but they have no choice but to abide by what is prescribed to them – whether it’s medicine, a bath, a nursing home.

The other useful aspect of the play was how it illustrates communication. The phrase “Don’t you remember?” comes up again and again by Andre’s daughter (played by Tan Kheng Hua). It is one of the most frustrating things I imagine, for someone with dementia to hear, because they can’t remember. I mentioned this in the post-talk because it is an important point for everyone to be aware of, if they are talking to someone with dementia.

Inevitably, when a play portrays a complex subject like this, it sparks questions and interest. I could sense that the audience members had many questions about dementia, and some were brought up in the post talk. The reality is that everybody needs to discuss this subject in more depth and empower themselves with more information. So, besides holding post-show talks, it was good that the theatre programme booklet was also a resource with useful information on dementia for the public.

Thanks again to Pangdemonium for staging the play, and Project We Forgot for inviting me to be a part of the post-show talk.

Ziyad Bagharib, Young caregiver to my mother with dementia

The Father is a difficult play to watch. It is, at many points, amusing, and this is mostly thanks to Lim Kay Siu’s impressionable performance of the overconfident, charming and at times insufferable protagonist Andre. However, the play has a deeply harrowing undertone which becomes increasingly obvious as the piece progresses.

Although Andre’s case of dementia is rather severe, the concerns addressed in the play – such as the fear of losing one’s cognitive abilities, the slow and disconcerting changes in one’s familial relationships, the guilt of the caregiver, the struggle of supporting a caregiver – would all seem strikingly familiar, I think, to anyone who has lived with dementia, even in cases where the dementia is less severe.

I am thankful that this play is being staged. I am thankful that it is attracting a large audience, because I believe that we must learn to recognise that dementia treatment is (a least at this point, and probably for the foreseeable future) necessarily a society-wide effort.

The more we collectively make ourselves aware of dementia as an existing and ever-growing reality in our society, the less afraid we are of facing that reality, and the better-equipped we will be – with courage, love, and, importantly, knowledge – to make life better for everyone living with dementia.

Danny Raven Tan, Caregiver to my mother with dementia

The treatment of the scenes was very impactful! I can see from The Father’s perspective how a person living with dementia feels, see, and the entire topsy turvy experience. It was rather frightening!

I cannot imagine if I were the person living it every day! The play allowed me to have a better understanding of what people living with dementia have to battle on a daily basis.

Kay Siu’s silent cry for help and struggle to stay sane and sensible when his reality is flaking off like old paint on the wall is very pronounced and in your face – it was very scary! I hope people that have little or no knowledge about dementia will show more empathy and understanding after watching The Father. Dementia is a global health issue, especially in Asia. We must address this before it hits us like a tsunami!

Thank you Pangdemonium for bringing the topic of dementia to a social space in Singapore. Check out their Facebook page for the latest updates on their work and productions.

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