Original Concept by Karen Sibbing. Co-created by Samara Hersch and Karen Sibbing. Directed by Samara Hersch. Performed by Karen Sibbing. Sound design by Joost van Dijk. Lighting design by Michelle Thorne. Produced by Pietjan Dusee and Esther Bruls. La Mama Theatre, June 2 – 4, 2017.

Ode is a barefaced depiction and unraveling of a day in the life of a vulnerable human struck down by the horrid disease that is dementia. Live theatre can be confronting and Ode is very much that, yet it is performed and directed with great sensitivity and honesty; it awakens an actuality that maybe our loved ones, or we, may one day have to face this frightening fate.

Karen Sibbing is just outstanding in her portrayal of a once able-bodied woman, who gradually deteriorates before our very eyes.  Sibbing witnessed a loved one take the journey into the darkness that is dementia.  She says, “Whilst watching my Oma disappear further and further into this unknown world, my hope that there was also beauty and magic in it somehow grew stronger”.

Initially I didn’t see the beauty or magic when I reflected back on the play; it stirred in me very deep emotions, memories of my own mother who was struck by Alzheimer’s, another debilitating disease linked to the aging process, and it conjured up my own fears. So powerful is this play that it is able to take you outside of yourself and immerse you into the world on stage.  I was lost in this world with the performer; I felt such sadness and helplessness as I witnessed the confusion and chaos of the mind.

But upon deeper reflection I could see some of the magic and beauty. Diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s can take their victims back full circle into childhood, a world where imagination and play preoccupies a mind.  Sibbing’s character has her own adventures; with her stuffed toy friend she is at the beach, and she plays dress-ups, she dances to music, and they have their own little birthday party with cake and tea.  But periodically she returns to reality and it is then that we feel the tension, her frustration and anger dramatically changing the mood of the entire room. 

This is very powerful theatre; I highly praise the creators, cast and crew; every strand has meaning that connects you to the world of the character, to a world that once was, and to one that it has become.  A story told through narrative yet far more through expression and pure emotion.  Ode is an experience. Through art it raises a greater awareness of this complex disease that affects around 350,000 Australians, awareness and understanding always brings some hope.      

Lisa Romeo

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