Standing ovations followed the moving finale of Maggie May, a lovely 2 act play by Frances Poet, beautifully acted and funny, sunny and uplifting, although it also deals with times of dark despair and extreme sadness. All of this shows how much laughter, song, love and acceptance go into turning dire situations and adversity into times of joy and hope.

Rod Stewart’s Maggie May was the big hit of the day when Maggie first met her husband Gordon in 1971. Now they’re in their 60s, Gordon is recovering from a stroke, and Maggie is struggling like a wildly paddling swan to appear perfectly composed as she desperately tries to hide from her son and her best friend the fact that she’s due the onset of Alzheimer’s has episodes of memory loss. Embarrassed and embarrassed, she is distraught at the thought of how they will react. We’ll find out soon as Maggie’s story and relationships unfold and develop through the interactions of five characters.

Eithne Browne is utterly engaging and lovable as Maggie, a down-to-earth Leeds woman, full of humor and song, who is suddenly faced with the challenges of being diagnosed with dementia. With her we ride a stubborn bronco from clear, logical times into nagging brain fog, desperate coping strategies and cover-ups, denial, frustration and despair, but gradually we move forward from the tears of fear. Once Maggie and those who love her face and accept the challenges of reality, they begin to focus on the positive and enjoy the joy of the moment by thinking about what can still be achieved rather than what cannot .

Son Michael (Mark Holgate) eventually works through his lack of understanding, denial, intolerance, impatience and desperation to accept his mother’s situation, thanks to the lovely Claire (Shireen Farkhoy), his kinder, more understanding on/off/on girlfriend and to get ready to do his part to help. Maggie’s best friend Jo (Maxine Finch) must learn to forget stigmatizing dementia stereotypes and do the same. Husband Gordon (Tony Timberlake) is a warm, loving, very lovable man who is always ready to sing, dance and laugh with the love of his life as they face their trials and difficulties together. Music regularly accompanies scenes, turning Maggie’s dark despair into times of joy and exhilaration, while also raising the spirits of the audience with doses of cheerful sunshine. Bursts of song, jokes and humor liven up the entire play.

The set is wonderfully uncluttered and appealing with clean, geometric lines formed by the angular metal frames of the beds and tables and an attractive green front door, all of which move smoothly. A stage-wide metal frame inscribed with hundreds of memorabilia hangs on a slope above the action, plays a large part in the story and creates a fabulously touching visual magic, especially at the end. The lighting is also simple but very effective, while a continuous frieze frames the entire stage and depicts rows of terraced houses, the homes of ordinary people like those in the story. In fact, everything has been carefully crafted for a dementia-friendly audience, and Maggie has at times let the script feed her brain and memory while reminding herself – and us – of the situation of the moment. Her clear, summary words also appear on two screens, where they remain throughout the scene.

Perhaps unexpectedly, Harry Potter metaphors are great. Maggie, a dementor, is presented with a giant, hovering, dark specter that has come to suck out her soul, steal her memories and leave an empty shell behind. But Maggie banishes it! She defeats it and instead decides to take up Gordon’s idea of ​​creating a Pensieve in which to store her precious memories. The super-innovative Gordon gives Maggie a screwdriver that she can use as a magic wand to pull golden memories out of her head and then place them in his empty toolbox. Here they are stored and shared forever, and the toolbox glows with magical light.

So rather than being about loss, decline and strain, this is a decidedly sunny, upbeat piece, lighthearted entertainment that offers hope and comfort and underscores the message that even when people use their minds to forget and sometimes even fail, loved ones to recognize, in their hearts and beings they still feel the love.

As friends and family come together to help, Maggie realizes that she is neither helpless nor useless, and sees that despite her tears and anguish, she will keep going, keep laughing, keep singing and dancing and getting involved and still enjoying the good things who can bring every gift has moment. A good philosophy.

Eileen Caiger Gray

Maggie May is a co-production of Leeds Playhouse, Curve and Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch and runs at Leeds Playhouse until May 21st and then at The Queen’s Theater from May 24th to 28th. All performances are dementia-friendly.



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