Charlotte Clarke is a Professor in the University’s School of Health in Social Science with much of her work focusing on dementia care. This year, Professor Clark and her team have worked with Skimstone Arts to create a play for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
The Ties That Bind is a touching performance about a man with the early stages of dementia.
Can you share with us your area of expertise and research interests?
I use social science approaches to describing and understanding how people live with dementia. Professionally, I am a nurse and I think this means that my research is focussed on people’s need to live well. My research tends to challenge assumptions about people with dementia and sees dementia as a socially experienced illness in which society and services can make a critical difference to people’s wellbeing.
The Ties that Bind is a play about the real life experiences of people living with dementia. Can you tell us a little about your involvement in the production?
The play is based on a research project that I led with a great team – well two projects really. The first project was funded by the Department of Health Policy Research Programme, evaluating peer support networks and dementia advisors within the (English) National Dementia Strategy.
We obtained a large amount of qualitative interview data in this project and felt that we could do more with this – so we were awarded funding from the Economic and Social Research Council to reanalyse the data, and to do so in partnership with people living with dementia.
We also worked with the theatre group, Skimstone Arts, to take the key messages from the research into a performance piece, The Ties That Bind – this tells the story of a fictionalised character and how his social networks change when he has dementia and how other people respond to him. We have also produced a film based on the findings of the research too actually, called Michael’s Map, which is available at: https://vimeo.com/channels/1148563/188113371
What do you hope audiences take away from the play?
I hope that people have a greater insight into some of the very subtle relationship changes that someone with dementia experiences, and can see how important these are to people. I hope they realise that they can do something about this too – perhaps adjusting the way they relate to people, and recognise that the dementia does not take the person away.
We have been asking people what they take away from the play – a substantial majority say that it does raise their awareness of dementia and does help them think of different ways of working and being with someone. I hope it helps people with a diagnosis of dementia feel that their experiences are better understood.
Do you think plays such as The Ties that Bind are an effective way of raising awareness for important research?
The play (and the film) reach a very different (and much larger) audience then my academic papers ever will! Both are important – but I feel that done well plays that communicate the findings of research have a very special and important role to play.
The Ties That Bind takes place at Whitespace, 76 East Crosscauseway. It runs on 3-9 and 21-23 August at 1pm