The Quality of Mercy is not strained
I was told she had a ‘superior’ nature and was difficult. However, although she was hard work for the carers there was an appreciation of her character and the staff wanted to make her quality of life better but didn’t know how to go about it. The carers were often thrown insults and abuse when they were attending to her needs. She had a sharp tongue and could reduce people to tears, staff were intimidated by her.
My job was to work with her on a 1:1 basis, initially for 3 weeks and see if i could change anything for the better, if I felt we could improve her life then there would be enough funding for an additional 3 weeks.
I was told that she had a background in theatre, drama and Shakespeare and had written papers on the subject. Having trained and worked as a professional actress, I decided to meet her on this level.
The room was dark, lit by a single red light and the curtains were invariably closed.
Week by week we chatted and looked at scenes from Shakespeare on the I Pad. We looked at ‘to be or not to be’ with Laurence Olivier. We talked about the difference in performances and the motivations of the character. The idea that Hamlet wanted to commit suicide, was this portrayed by the actors, and did we feel Hamlets fear?
We always watched Olivier’s ‘to be or not to be’ at some stage in our sessions. This speech resonated with her, it flowed through her like silk, calming her, She told me that when she heard this the first time as a young girl, she was hooked, there was no turning back. This speech defined her future.
I asked her out of interest ‘ if I had been one of your students from the past, what speech would you advise me to learn?’
‘ The quality of mercy is not strained,’ was her answer. I set about learning it - In the morning, on the tube, late at night I would learn the speech.
The weeks ticked by and the change in my client began to reveal itself to her carers in the unit. She became more amenable, relaxed and happier in her general person. She apologised for being rude and upsetting one of the carers. The buzz was spreading through the centre. A carer came into the staff room and exclaimed “what are you doing to her, I hope you realise the effect your having’
To find out more a carer joined us in our sessions. The dynamic changed, she was welcomed generously by her and told her what it was we were working on. Our resident invited the carer into the process and through this a scene was set. she had in her head already decided that the speech i had learnt was now going to become part of a courtroom scene that she ,myself and the carer were going to all be intrinsically involved in. – Antonio the merchant was to be played by our resident, Shylock was to be played by the carer and Portia was to be played by myself !
i saw her idea as a perfect opportunity to move her out of the bed she had incarcerated herself into and out into another room lit by the light of day.
I explained the problem in short i said, the room was too dark, too small, we needed more space – Antonio needed to get out of bed, we needed to go to the staff room to play the scene! Our resident needed space to direct us! And so it was planned, our next session was to take place in the staff room.
And thus began the transformation and celebration.My client was motivated to leave her room and get into her wheelchair - this was a real breakthrough!
My client got out of bed for the first time in a year. Together a person with dementia, a carer in the unit and myself – a Community artist we played the scene.
I don’t think there could have been a more profound setting for this particular trial scene.
Whilst working at it from an actor’s perspective. We each shared our views and emotional responses to the speech. Through this interaction we came together as people. Culturally we were all from different spectrums however the genius of Shakespeare transcends this, inspiring us to look at the human condition and have a deeper understanding for each other.
Shakespeare is very close to my client’s heart and she fondly would recall how she taught and lectured in the subject at a university in the south of Great Britain. By inviting ourselves into her world of Shakespeare we are connecting and celebrating who she is and what her passion in life is.
I believe that by tapping into this lifelong passion has been the key to this remarkable shift. Rekindling her enthusiasm in an animated and experiential way has reconnected her with her sense of self and others.
Shakespeare looks at the human condition in such an authentic way that he transcends time and it is through this that we are all able to let go of the roles and labels we have in life and share something that we all relate to – being human. I believe that this has been a key ingredient to improving well-being, not just for my client but also for the staff that work with her on a daily basis. Three weeks later after the staff room event, myself, three carers and our resident took a trip to the Globe theatre. I don’t think any of us could quite believe the difference in our resident from the start to finish of this 7-week project.
She is funny, witty and an inspiration and that is now shared and valued and understood by others for who she is. She has requested that 'to be or not to be’ be learnt by one of her key care staff. This has tickled the staff at the centre.‘to be or not to be’ is now heard being muttered under her breath and so life goes on at the centre… “ to be or not to be – that is the question!’