Issue date: Mon 23 January 2017
Among the audience for Spillikin at Greenwich Theatre from January 26-28 will be members of the Alzheimer’s Society, the dementia support and research charity, and some of the people they help in Greenwich.
Spillikin is a love story that starts in the 1970s. Pop music-loving Sally and robotics fan Raymond get married but remain childless until Sally’s Alzheimer’s takes hold and Raymond’s motor neuron disease eventually kills him.
But…before he dies Raymond creates a robot and uploads his memories to keep Sally company when he’s gone.
“I think it’s really interesting and quite a fascinating idea to use technology to support someone with dementia,” said Sarah Colyer, the society’s operations manager for SE London.
“One of the big issues with dementia is the patience needed when someone asks the same question over and over again, so the idea of a robot that would be endlessly patient is very interesting. At the same time there’s also the issue of using something unable to display normal human emotions like irritation. We must never lose sight of the humanity involved.”
The society already uses technology to help people. “We have a talking clock that tells what the time is and calendars that remind them what they are doing today,” said Sarah. “There are also trackers that tell you where someone is, although the morality of that is being discussed because they are like ankle bracelets used on prisoners.”
“Dementia is becoming a very big problem with 850,000 sufferers across the UK. I’m sure technology can help people but you would never want it to replace people. In Greenwich we have a dementia adviser and support worker as well as the Friends Together Café that meets at Shrewsbury House in Plumstead every other Tuesday.”
James Haddrell, Greenwich Theatre’s artistic and executive director, sees Spillikin as a unique theatrical production with three actors and a state-of-the-art robot. “I have always been a science fiction fan,” he said, “but only when it tells a human story about people’s relationships, their challenges and dreams.
“Dementia in its many forms must surely be one of the most frightening challenges facing our society and is now being scrutinized by the arts. Pipeline Theatre have used theatre and a science fiction context to explore what it means to live with Alzheimer’s.
“This production invites us to imagine that this kind of robotic companionship may not be far away. Whether that is good or bad is left to us to decide, and it will be great to have members of the Alzheimer’s Society to discuss it with us in the Q&A that follows the play. With tickets still available we hope to have a truly diverse audience for this unique production.”
Spillikin plays at Greenwich Theatre from 26-28 January
All performances are followed by a free Q&A with members of the company, and a chance to meet and find out more about the robot in the show.