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  • Henry Longstaff

The Fish Bowl - Summerhall Edinburgh Fringe

An essential insight into the power of dementia

Lachlan Werner


I was not prepared to be so profoundly moved and close to tears before midday. Matthew Barker’s award-winning production about those living with dementia is tormenting and honest in its dissection of the cyclical, impossible task that carers and families face on a daily basis. The ugly truth about humans living longer reveals newer and more challenging barriers that we need to be urgently discussing and that is where this brilliant play positions itself.

Barker and Heidi Steel perform, switching gently between patient, carer and narrator, introducing and embodying the myriad of characters swimming around the proverbial fishbowl. An audience member is asked to join in, guided in what to say and how to interact before we are all led in song, the innate power of the music affecting the patients we have begun to know. Barker and Steel explain why a person with dementia reacts the way they do, humanising their confused response and showing us how the fog restricts their thinking as they believe everything is normal as much of their points of reference have been dissolved by the disease.

Barker draws on his experience working in a care home in South Australia, his experience, empathy and respect clear for all to see. He utilises interviews with others in the field whether that be fellow carers or medical professionals, sharing their perspectives and hopes for the condition, the stark reality settling in as they speak. The research for the performance nicely bleeds into the actors’ physicality too. This is not a place for over-the-top stereotypes, instead, we see authentic movement and demeanours that are recognisable and genuine.

In amongst the fear-inducing beats, some pockets glimmer with hope and happiness. One such moment is when a patient is shown a photo album brimming with pictures of the people in their life. Barker is miraculous here, both in his writing and performance. His eyes and expression ignite with memory and recognition, simply beautiful. This show’s calm vulnerability is masterful, intelligent and exquisite, a production I will remember for a long time to come - needs to be compulsory viewing.

Running 8-13th, 15-20th, 22-27th - Tickets

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