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> > > Unlimited 2014: Julie McNamara: Let Me Stay

4 September 2014

There’s a luminous quality to Julie McNamara’s generously warm and funny one-woman show about the onset of her mother’s Alzheimer’s. Review by Amardeep Sohi

photo of actress Julie McNamara holding a flowery dress close to herself, with a thumbs up from sign language interpreter Karl Lorca

Sign Language Interpreter Karl Lorca with Julie McNamara in Let Me Stay. Photo © Andrea Abril

Written and performed by Julie McNamara, it’s a piece that not only captures the tenderness between a mother and daughter adjusting to the effects of Alzheimer’s, but one that chooses to convey that journey through humour and positivity.

Directed by Paulette Randall, Let Me Stay, (which is currently touring the UK and more recently had a run at the Albany theatre), is a fitting component of a festival that Senior Producer Jo Verrent hopes will transform perceptions of disability.

Across the stage in the Purcell Room, white boxes are stacked up on a circular, white rug; housing objects and memories accumulated throughout a lifetime. With only a retro, orange chair and a pair of sparkly shoes scattered across the floor, the wall of boxes become the focal point and digital canvas for images of Shirley, the vivacious “Queen of Mersey”.

BSL Interpreter Karl Lorca sets the tone as he signs to the song “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” the opening score to Julie’s entrance; she appears as her mother Shirley – cheery and billowing with warmth and heart. Through enactments and the recollection of childhood memories, Julie charts the journey of a life shifted by Alzheimer’s. From Shirley’s attendance at the Dada Festival awards ceremony in her gardening attire, to mistaking a spiky sculpture for a chair, and refusing to applaud a comedy act that she deemed wasn’t funny, the episodes signify a refusal to conform and more importantly, the spirit of a woman who was always a bit “rebellious”.

Julie McNamara ensures Lorca is never isolated from the production, as she occasionally interacts, drawing him neatly him into the piece. There’s also an effortless, yet polished quality to her performance. Her feat in this production however, lies in illuminating the character and spirit of her mother; drawing out her radiance, rather than focusing on loss and adversity. Her use of comedy doesn’t feel diminishing or dismissive of the effects of Alzheimer’s, but rather, becomes symbolic of her decision to “join in” and exist in “her world”.

As the production closes, it’s the sound of mother and daughter singing together that leaves a lasting and poignant imprint on the audience.

Let Me Stay is a piece that’s defined by light, rather than loss; celebrating the life of spirited Shirley McNamara and the evolving, yet  tender relationship with her daughter. Let Me Stay is a piece of heart. 

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