Let Me Stay – living well with dementia

An edited clip of Let Me Stay filmed at Anxiety festival, The Albany, London 2014.

Julie McNamara worked alongside her mother Shirley to create a wonderfully tender piece of theatre presenting a fresh take on Alzheimer’s. The title Let Me Stay comes from the refrain of one of Shirley’s favourite songs. She chose the edited clips created by award winning filmmaker, Caglar Kimyoncu and the series of images used in the 50’s style slideshow that opens the production. There are recordings of her singing her favourite songs and of course, she has to have the last word.

Here at last is a heart warming intimate portrait of somebody living well with dementia. Forget the idea of an apologetic withdrawal from the world. Rather think of it as a shedding of all cares, with two fingers up at the world and a constant sense of glee.

Living well with dementia is always possible. Discovering the truth of that has taken a long and often hard road accompanying my Mother (along with my sisters) on this eccentric journey through Alzheimer’s.

In all honesty, there have been far more unexpected joys than pain. We have walked through familial stories, songs, mementos and memories from the life of Shirley McNamara – the woman I once called Mother, affectionately known as Queen of the Mersey – and woven the best of those fit for public consumption into a production that toured three continents.


Shirley and Julie McNamara – Image Caglar Kimyoncu

Let Me Stay conveys a unique and positive message to individuals and families affected by Alzheimers and other neuro-degenerative conditions. A diagnosis of Alzheimers does not have to be delivered with an immediate doom and gloom death sentence. The condition may well present a difficult journey, but it is an extraordinarily tender one that requires delicate navigation. Sometimes a family may find that journey too arduous to complete together. It requires loving kindness, ventilation of a myriad of uncomfortable emotions, comedy and compassion to get you through. Let Me Stay offers an intimate portrait of a unique relationship between Mother and daughter – sometimes called son – sometimes the dog – trying to steer a way to living every moment to its fullest. Choose life every time, no matter what mess you might make.

A series of workshops accompanied all previous international tours of the show, aimed at people in the early stages of dementia, family members, support workers and carers.

Through performance-based techniques, sensory stimulus and reclaimed images from a wide range of cultural contexts, participants were offered learning in effective listening and the power of music, songs, and in memory recall. Patience and compassion is always at the heart of this creative approach founded on scientific research and on discoveries from the hard graft of Baz Kershaw founder of ‘Fair Old TImes’.


Let Me Stay workshop, Festival de Grandes Espetaculos, Brazil


Julie Mc embraces her Mother’s disappearing world in Let Me Stay



Expert in the educational uses of theatre, Naomi Cortes’s booklet accompanying the show includes useful resources from workshop activities and interviews with the creative team behind the scenes of Let Me Stay.  As well as offering insights into the creation of the work, there are poignant conversations with Julie McNamara, playwright and performer, and Paulette Randall, director of the production. Significantly, each artist learned to live with Alzheimers through their parents’ later years.