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This Verbatim play is an almost alarmingly truthful piece of theatre.  Touching, entertaining, and enlightening, this mesmerising production compels us to empathise with those going through an experience many of us will face.

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

From the Promo:

'I'm slowly disappearing ...' 

Imagine a world where familiar objects lose their meaning ...

Una is 93. She plays a pretty good game of scrabble, and she has dementia.
Peter is a lawyer. He was also the mayor when he first lost his wife.
Erin, Rosanna and Kerry work in a dementia care unit.

They are some of the 17 people whose stories are related in The Keys are in the Margarine, a verbatim play about dementia, in which six actors using MP3 players represent faithfully every word, intonation and gesture of people whose lives are affected by dementia/Alzheimer's. 

The Keys are in the Margarine was created from dozens of hours of conversations with people, who, in informal, filmed interviews, shared their stories and experience of dementia.  Some of those people are not seen or heard directly in this play, but their information, insights, and experience nevertheless informed the work.

This project builds on Talking House's previous documentary or "verbatim" productions: Hush: A Verbatim Play About Family Violence and Be | Longing, which tells stories of immigration, discovery, settling - and unsettling in Aotearoa New Zealand.

In performance, The Keys are in the Margarine adopts a similar approach to that used in Hush and Be | Longing.  With the audio of the edited interviews playing in their ears, the performers not only repeat the original words, but they endeavour to replicate precisely the speakers' inflections and intonation.  Meanwhile, in rehearsals the actors study the "physical score" of the interviews to capture each gesture and body movement as accurately as possible.

Production Team

Writers: Cindy Diver, Susie Lawless, and Stuart Young

Directors: Cindy Diver and Stuart Young

Producer: Nadine Kemp

Dramaturg: Simon O'Connor

Designer: Martyn Roberts

Assistant Lighting Designer and Operator: Audrey Morgan

Sound Operator and Technician: Will Spicer

Audio Research and Development: Taylormade Productions


Clare Adams          Julie, Rachel, Sue, Kerry

Cindy Diver           Sally, Myra, Zoe

Julie Edwards        Tania, Abby, Rosanna

Karen Elliot           Una, Serena, Erin

Ross Johnston       Nigel, Peter

Will Spicer            Bob, Stuart

Franciska's Review:

Going into the theatre, I didn't quite know what to expect.  It was my first time experiencing a verbatim production and I was dubious as to how well it would flow.  But it did not disappoint.  It fell somewhere between a play and a documentary, with the characters each telling their own stories and only occasionally interacting with one another.

My one criticism would be that we were able to hear one of the actor's MP3 feeds.  Presumably this was due to the fact that whilst most of the actors spoke in unison with their character's feed, two spoke with a slight delay ~ preferring not to learn their lines, but rather, to re-tell what they were hearing.  However, this wasn't overly distracting and certainly didn't negatively impact on the actors' deliveries.

We had front row seats and as such, were literally sitting on stage ~ which added to the feeling of intimacy that you would expect whilst sitting in someone's lounge.

As a psychology student, I was engrossed from start to finish ~ almost forgetting that the people in front of me were merely actors.  Cindy Diver and Julie Edwards were particularly brilliant at switching between the various characters they were portraying.  I was mesmerised by the stories told ~ similar, yet different ~ being told from the perspectives of the patients, their loved ones, their care-givers, and the experts.

I was particularly taken by the nurses reflecting upon the difference in care which they are able to offer dementia patients.  This was particularly relevant to an essay I'm researching about stress and how care-giving over months or years dramatically increases the risk of becoming physically ill.  As the nurses stated, they work in three shifts ~ they are able to leave their patients, take time out, and return the next day refreshed and able to give their 100%.  When caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer's in your own home, you don't have the luxury of having time out ~ you're on call 24/7.

Of course, all the perspectives were fascinating.  Not having had first hand experience with either dementia or Alzheimer's, The Keys are in the Margarine provided tremendous insight into how these illnesses affect not only the patients but also the people around them.  All the text books in the world ~ explaining the biology of what is happening inside the brain, and the behavioural symptoms ~ cannot fully portray the realities of living with these illnesses.

I am definitely keen to see more of this unique style of theatre and in particular, I would love to see Be | Longing as that too is particularly relevant to my current studies into cultural perspectives in psychology.