CHALK at The Vic

Simon CHALK v2
Me, knackered, last week.

I PERFORMED MY SHOW CHALK at the Victoria Institute in Arundel, West Sussex, last week (Thursday 24 – Saturday 26 February).

I’ve raised nearly two grand for Alzheimer’s Society doing the show so far.

If you’ve not seen it, it’s me onstage on my tod for 75 minutes wearing a 1970s school uniform pretending to be ten years old. For the avoidance of doubt, ten years old is 38 years younger than my actual age.

Boy, the show hurts. It’s physically and mentally draining. There have been times when I’ve come off feeling like I’m experiencing shock or something, and that there must be easier ways of spending my spare time.

CHALK is about a man desperately trying to cling to his memories in the face of dementia. He experiences bewildering highs as the music he hears unlocks things in him long since buried and crushing lows as the illness shuts these memories down in stages. The world in Richard’s head begins as a sanctuary, finishes as a battleground. Some scenes are light, whimsical. Others are brutal. Somewhere in the middle of it there’s a message of hopefulness without mawkishness because I think that’s how the loved ones I’ve lost to dementia would have wanted me to tackle this.

I’m so proud of the show and the feedback I’ve been given but I never know how audiences are taking it as I’m up there in the middle of it. It’s exhilarating and terrifying all at once.

So, these words from Mike (c/o Arundel’s Big House band) who saw CHALK on Friday 25 February fair took the wind out of my sails.

Thanks so much for this, Mike.

‘Friday went to see the production titled “Chalk” which ran for three nights at the Victoria Institute. It was written and performed by Simon Carter and dealt with the subject of dementia, a challenging topic to say the least. I am in no way qualified to offer a critique of the evening, all I can really say is how it resonated with me. At a performance level it was an incredible outpouring of emotional and physical energy that surpasses anything I’ve ever seen on the stage. I’m normally knackered after a gig; the nerves, the tension and the act of creating all make a demand on you energetically. But Simon should have been allowed to lie down for a week to recover from one performance, let alone get up and do it all again the next night!

I thought the play was really cleverly constructed, alternating between moments of hysteria and disorientation, to vivid flashbacks from childhood and adolescence. The increasing blur between reality and memory world and the frustrations in communicating what was being experienced were all palpable. The disease itself was personified as an evil that no matter how successful can never claim the heart and soul of its victim, and most interestingly for me, an observation that I have encountered several times before, how successful music is in connecting directly to that heart and soul, serving as the trigger for moments of serenity and comfort. I have very little direct exposure to dementia, unlike Simon who had seen it work its evil through two relatives, but I felt from the play a sense of how it might be being experienced and how important are the sensory triggers, music in particular, in penetrating the veil it draws over the individual.

It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t without a message of hope and dignity.’

  • See Mike’s original post here.

My Play CHALK – World Premiere!

  • As live theatre returns to the United Kingdom, my brand new play CHALK is one of the first out of the blocks in the East Midlands. It’s being staged at the Robin Hood Theatre in Averham, Nottinghamshire, Wednesday 23 – Saturday 26 June 2021. The show aims to raise dementia awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s Society. It’s also a world premiere, so I’m posting my programme notes for posterity!

“IT’S MY ABSOLUTE PLEASURE to be performing CHALK for you at the Robin Hood Theatre. It’s the first time the play has been staged in front of a live audience (which means it’s both thrilling and terrifying for me all at once) and I couldn’t have wished for a better experience in the lead up. Geoff Morgan’s done a terrific job as director and the gusto with which the team has tackled the many technical challenges (I think CHALK now holds unofficial venue record for most single sound and lighting cues in a one act production) has been so impressive. They’ve even built me a giant desk.

The run has been COVID-delayed. We were due to go in November 2020, and then January 2021, now here we are in June. But I remind myself that if it hadn’t been for lockdown I may never have finished the script. This had been sitting around about 75% complete for several years. I finished it initially to be performed by a professional actor chum called Dan Fearn, with an opportunity of getting CHALK into development at the National, where it may still end up.

‘I’ll send it to the Robin Hood Theatre for read-through and feedback at the writer’s group,’ I thought in a moment of rare lockdown proactivity.

Chalk Flyer RHTC 1266x1772

A few weeks later I found myself staring down the barrel of actually performing the thing. Geoff can be very persuasive, and he was keen to get a live piece of theatre up on the stage as quickly and safely as possible. The way things have worked out, it’ll be first production on after official re-opening. Gulp.

It’s for Edith (my grandmother) and Alan (my uncle), both lost to dementia. Alongside other close family, these glorious people were written all over major parts of my childhood.

You may have had, or may have, an Edith or an Alan close to you if you’ve been affected by dementia. What took them in the end was something terrible and devastating, but there were sparks, flashes, in the midst of it. Moments which, when triggered by a familiar voice, a familiar smell, a familiar song, caused them to rise from the darkness and light up the place with a smile, a giggle. In people with dementia, longer-term memory can be prolonged through the hearing of familiar music. An old song can transport you back. It can bring back places, people, occasions.

I never knew for certain what went on behind the eyes, but I did see glimpses. The last time I saw Edith she said to me, in an all too fleeting moment of recall: ‘Oh! Simon! Hello, Simon! Where have you been?’

Simon CHALK v2

I don’t think she saw me as the adult grandchild in front of her. I think, in her mind, I was the five-year-old grandchild again, running around her kitchen with that infernal saucepan on his head, making noises like a motorbike, crisps and crumbs tumbling down his chin. I’m sure this was the version of me nanna clinged to because she’d spoken of it so often before. Forever a child for her, now.

Dementia is a tough subject to write about and I don’t take the responsibility of doing so lightly. I’m hopeful that I can capture of sense of what life might be like behind the eyes of an Edith, or an Alan. I’m hopeful that I can raise some awareness (and some donations) for Alzheimer’s Society, an amazing organisation which does amazing work.

Above all, I’d like to show that for all the distress that dementia causes it surely will not, cannot, ever truly claim a person’s heart, soul and smiles. Who they were, and all they meant to us, stays with us long afterwards. I’m sorry – I don’t want to sugar coat this. Really I don’t. It’s just that I saw this to be true, and twinkling, in the eyes of a loved one as a song, as a voice, took them back somewhere only they knew. Bringing them joy. Release. Dignity in the darkness.

I hope you enjoy the show. Thank you for the opportunity to do it.

And, of course, welcome back to live theatre.”

  • Donate to Alzheimer’s Society via our JustGiving page here.