When Let Me Stay hit Brazil: Julie Mc remembers

Julie McNamara talks about the tour that put ‘Let Me Stay’ front page on Brazilian national papers earlier this year.

Going to Pernambuco with ‘Let Me Stay’ was one of the most extraordinary adventures of my career so far. It has genuinely changed the direction of my working practices. For example, we are currently looking to build a touring model of an Audio Description booth that we toured with across NE Brazil. I was so impressed with the one we worked with.

The tour presented me with fresh challenges – I don’t speak Portuguese but I was playing my Mother with Alzheimer’s. She has no social brakes, no boundaries. She will talk to anyone and everyone, so I had to swiftly learn a few key phrases of Portuguese so that the character – my Mother, could wander through her audiences and make genuine contact with her ‘family in the house’. I became briefly immersed in Brazilian popular culture via people’s loves and hates of television stars. I had to find well known characters to throw at the audience that would immeditaely connect us. I discovered Pedro Baiao, a Reality Television star who it was felt had ‘let the side down’; I fell for the charismatic Tony Tornado not ever to be confused with Tony Ramos (the hairy one – a delight to ‘sign’ across any culture!)

I was so impressed with the creativity of the team touring with us and the dedication to detail in reproducing the design on our behalf. My grateful thanks to Producers Marisa Riccitelli and Paula Lopez!

We made front page news and that came as a surprise. I suspect the show was so very well received because of our universal human connection with grief and loss. Those of us blessed to have a Mother, whether good enough or not, will always secretly harbour the terror of losing her. I work with my grief on stage. Naked and afraid, the fear of losing my Mother is laid bare. Let Me Stay presents the audience with the reality of that long goodbye that Alzheimer’s so cruelly throws at us. But what the audiences did not expect was the great sense of celebration my Mother presents us with. She is living well with her dementia. And so her story is full of joy and great vivacity. She dances with life. My Mother Shirley, affectionately known as ‘The Queen of the Mersey’ attracts new friends and new adventures everywhere we go. Connection is crucial. Whilst her energy and her heart is at the core of this creative work, that is true of the way that this production has been received. The work itself attracts new partnerships, new adventures everywhere we go.

The show is built with love, with comedy and compassion. This is what I found in the people who welcomed me to the many places we visited in Pernambuco, to Olinda, Recife, Goiana, Caruaru. We had good audience numbers wherever we went. But I will never forget the audience on the last night of our tour standing and yelling her name in celebration: ‘Shirley, Shirley, Shirley!’.

I do believe that the after show Q and A was as long as the show itself. We didn’t want to say goodbye.