Rolling back the years in Lowestoft

IT could have been a scene from any street party on June 2, 1953.

The red, white and blue bunting was up, the home-made cakes were ready, and popular music of the day was on the wireless.

This week, a Lowestoft theatre was taken back to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in a new and innovative project to help people living with Alzheimer's reminisce about their past.

The street party was part of a unique, interactive play, which premiered on Wednesday at the Seagull Theatre in Pakefield.

The play follows a family getting ready for their street party but when the drama came to an end there was a twist in store for the audience – they were all invited to the party.

The idea came from former ITV Anglia presenter Helen McDermott, who was also part of the cast.

Working with the Alzheimer's Society, Norfolk, and the Seagull Theatre Education and Outreach Programme, it took a year to create a performance that would evoke positive, post war-time memories.

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The hard work paid off and the play was a success – one of the audience members even requested some spoons to play along with the accordionist.

'I've done a lot of work with people with Alzheimer's,' said Ms McDermott.

'Generally, the long term memory is better than the short term memory. It's a matter of looking at ways of trying to engage people.

'It seems it has awakened quite a few interesting memories.'

People with Alzheimer's who still live at home were the first to see the play, called The Queen's Coronation, and a coach brought them to Lowestoft. One of them was Victor Walker, 65, from Bowthorpe, in Norwich.

'That was lovely,' he said after the performance. I really enjoyed that. I loved the costumes and the way it was presented. I loved the songs and sang along with some of them. I say some, but I sang along with them all. I thoroughly enjoyed coming out here.'

Funding for the project came from the Geoffrey Watling Charitable Trust and the play was written by Carole Budgen and directed by John Hales, also manager and artistic director of the theatre.

'The idea is that it gives them a bit of everything – a nice story in the vein of things they used to watch, like Doris Day, a bit of a love story, an event,' said Mr Hales.

Everyone involved was trained in the particular needs of people with dementia.

The five actors in the play mingled with the audience during the party and they were all encouraged to share their memories.

It is hoped that the play will be performed for people across the region, and possibly nationally.

Additional performances can be arranged either at the Seagull Theatre or at care homes by arrangement. Call the Seagull Theatre on 01502 589726 for more information.