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Review: In Tune With Dementia

Image: EdFringe

In Tune With Dementia is Howard Timms' solo musical play, telling the story of spending time with his mother amidst her downward struggle with Alzheimers.

Entering the intimate space and seeing the props lined up, I felt a sudden anxiety that this could be an awkward hour. With the subject matter close to our hearts, and I suspect also many others in the audience, this is something which had to be done sensitively but also done well.

That anxiety was immediately alleviated. Not only is Howard a skilled performer, this is also his story, so inevitably incredibly close to his heart - being about his own family, and his own, now passed away, mother.

Howard plays both himself and his mother, to great effect. As he sits on a chair covered with a blanket, his voice and facial expression changes and he becomes his mother. What could become a parody, with a man playing an elderly woman, is actually a loving, and completely convincing portrait.

Having known and loved family with dementia, Howard and his mother's plight was all too recognisable - as his mother's comments amused with a wry, and often sad, recognition.

While there are moments of poignancy and sadness, the piece is also uplifting - finding and embracing moments of humour, the closeness of their relationship and joyous, unexpected moments of clarity.

More than just a tale of the present, it delves into their familial past as the mother drops hints at Howard's father not being who he understood him to be.

The idea, and uncertainty, of this being either an accidental admission of a truth once hidden, or a false memory, is intriguing. This causes us to reflect on the loose nature of memories, as they become more like stories that we either do or don't want to believe.

There are genuine moments of pain as we see Howard admit to his flaws and times of weakness, both in his caring for his mother and in earlier life.

In my eyes, he should feel no shame. He was clearly a loving and committed son and carer - with endless patience and also trips back from America to just be with her. By the end of the piece we see him being recognised not as a son, but falsely, as a husband.

Some people would walk away at this stage - finding the situation too difficult or believing she didn't know what was going on. Even if that was the case, making her smile with songs and stories is enough for Howard: he never gives up on her.

It's so frustrating when people give up on the elderly or those with dementia, as if just because cognition may be lacking that their ability to feel is removed also. That is not the case, and Howard's story is a fine example of that.

One thing which would have been a welcome addition would have been a charity collection for The Alzheimers Society. Many in the audience will already have a personal connection with the material, and especially after enjoying Howard's story, would have been happy to donate.

This moving and amusing tribute to Howard's mother makes for an enjoyable piece - and I'd especially recommend this if you have been touched in some way by dementia. The production touchingly conveys the shared experiences of what, for both the carer and sufferer, is an awful and isolating illness to live with.

In Tune With Dementia plays at the Space on the Mile at 10.05pm until 17 August.


  1. Thanks for this thoughtful and supportive review. I performed at Edinburgh with family funds to cover the Fringe expenses, aiming to make In Tune With Dementia better known and stimulate later fundraising. But after reading your review, I did ask for voluntary donations, and am splitting the funds raised between Alzheimer’s Scotland and The Alzheimer’s Society (England, Wales, and Northern Ireland). Howard Timms,

  2. Hi Howard,

    Ah I'm really pleased to hear that. Good luck with the show in the future and with fundraising! And congratulations again on a lovely show.



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