Shadow Play

Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival, in partnership with Age UK Tunbridge Wells and Smoking Apples Theatre Company, creates a new community arts project for those living with dementia.

Over the course of five weekly sessions during summer 2018, Smoking Apples, an award-winning puppetry and visual theatre company, worked with those living with dementia who attend the day care centre at Wood Street in the town. They created this 30-minute film, which was screened in October 2018. The project aimed to engage those living with dementia to recall stories and experiences through the medium of shadow puppetry.

‘While we recognise the participants may struggle to form connected memories, shadow puppetry works very well with fragmented ideas,’ explains Molly Freeman, co-artistic director of Smoking Apples. ‘We aim to uncover some of the participants’ stories using music, photographs and films as stimuli to get the ideas flowing. We will then use these ideas as a basis for the group to create and design shadow puppets.’

Left to right, Matt Lloyd, Molly Freeman and Hattie Thomas, co-artistic directors of Smoking Apples Photographer: Richard Davenport 2016

Alongside its traditional day care, the Wood Street centre provides a safe, peaceful place for those living with dementia who enjoy socialising in small groups, while also allowing respite for their carers and loved ones. The youngest are in their early 70s, and the oldest in their early 90s. This puppetry project – a first for the centre – is an exciting addition to its programme of creative activities that foster interaction and wellbeing. Joanna Marks, service support manager, says, ‘During these sessions, we have plenty of laughter! They encourage our guests to socialise and reminisce – they will remember episodes, and the trick is to tease them out. Some may simply enjoy watching others taking part. The evidence shows that creative pastimes improve the mood of people living with dementia.’