Review by Matthew Hocter
In a world that is ever increasing in its fight for representation and visibility, there is still one group that for the most part, remains largely unseen; the elderly. Couple this lack of visibility with an affliction heavily associated with ageing, dementia, and you have just shy of half a million people in Australia alone living with vulnerability that many times sees them shunned from the wider community. A harsh and very real reality for far too many.
When you have a piece of theatre that actively looks at dementia, amateur theatre at that, it almost feels like walking into the unknown. You want it to be great, but the topic and odds seem like they are firmly stacked against a positive outcome. Good news! This intimate production in The Breakout at The Mill disposed of any trepidation I may have had, on top of being a truly special production in its own right.
The Fish Bowl, written and performed by Matthew Barker is a deep dive into dementia, those that live with it and their carers in the local memory unit of a care home. Joined on staged by Evie Leonard and directed by Stephanie Daughtry, Barker delivers a very honest, real and lived (his day job is as a carer in a similar type of home, specialising in music therapy) experience, giving the audience a first hand recollection of some of the characters and situations that have clearly influenced this play.
Channelling numerous characters throughout the hour (roughly 30 I believe between the two actors) long play, Barker made use of the intimacy of his surroundings by having audience participation ( thanks Anne) and the minimal staging only put more focus on the actors, creating some incredibly powerful moments that gave way to both laughter and dead silence, as the uncomfortability and reality of what living with dementia is really like set in.
One of the most powerful moments of the evening was when the audience was asked to close their eyes and be totally immersed in the moment. The familiarity of sound is one of the greatest connections to our memories, something that is explored with music when Barker starts singing “Loch Lomond” with much of the audience joining in.
At times Barker appears confrontational with his message and makes no apologies when showing just how badly patients can be treated. His voice is powerful and whilst the props are simple, the messages are clearly articulated. With projections on white sheets, to the sounds of day to day life, The Fish Bowl highlights just how little you need when the acting and message collide to create something that good.
The Fish Bowl is a powerful examination of living with dementia and what that looks like on both sides; the patients and their carers. This play is one of importance and urgency. With so many people living with and affected by dementia, it seems almost criminal if it isn’t shared nationally.
A must see piece of theatre.