Based on real-life case-studies, The Ties That Bind is a theatre piece commissioned by the University of Edinburgh that explores the heart-wrenching effects of early onset dementia. Yes, cheery stuff for a Monday afternoon! The protagonist, Paul, is 56 years old, lives with his sister and is a successful sound engineer who slowly notices ever-increasing lapses in memory. This leads to a medical diagnoses of dementia which inevitably changes the lives of both Paul and his sister, who transitions into the role of carer.
The play does well in conveying the extreme isolation and erosion of confidence that dementia causes to sufferers. As Paul is forced to close his recording studio, his condition increasingly ostracises him from friends and colleagues, leaving his sister as the sole connection to the outside world. As such, she alone carries the burden of care and is exposed to Paul’s frustrations and mood-swings as he struggles to adapt to life with dementia.
Thankfully, there are some optimistic aspects portrayed in Paul’s journey. He manages to access a support group with other dementia sufferers, and is asked to help a local school with sound recording projects. This is an important element of the story as it provides the audience with a clear message that loneliness can be just as damaging as medical conditions and that there are services available that can help.
Tangled cables and balls of thread are simple props used effectively to portray the tangled state of Paul’s mind, with projected images allowing for a blank stage to take the form of different scenes. Disappointingly, the actors struggle to build a strong rapport with each other, leaving the audience with limited emotional investment in the characters. The script aims to produce natural dialogue between Paul and his sister but there is little depth and the delivery is messy and uncoordinated at times, resulting in a slightly unconvincing portrayal of a sibling/carer relationship. However, there is no doubt that The Ties That Bind highlights very important issues that deserve more exposure.