The Fish Bowl: Immersive documentary theatre

Award-winning experimental documentary theatre piece about living with Dementia, The Fish Bowl, returns to the Adelaide Fringe this March.

How does a person with Dementia experience the world? How can we better connect with people in the often challenging environment of aged care? Enter the real-life stories of people living with Alzheimer’s through a creative retelling of the sights, sounds and stories from a local Memory Unit.

The Fish Bowl, directed by Steph Daughtry, is an award-winning experimental theatre piece exploring themes of communication, ageing, and identity through the real-life stories of people living with Dementia in a South Australian Memory Unit.

“The Fish Bowl” is a metaphor for the voyeuristic, circular nature of the daily routine for people living in aged care and those that work alongside them. The play celebrates the rich characters you find there, the wisdom they impart, and the ways in which carers and nurses can find creative new forms of communication.

Winner of the 2022 BankSA Award for Best Theatre and Physical Theatre and the Holden Street Theatre Award at the Adelaide Fringe, The Fish Bowl has been made in direct consultation and collaboration with a South Australian Nursing Home, where playwright Matthew Barker worked and built relationships with patients, families and staff over the past six years.

While working as a carer, Matthew (BCA Drama Centre) has recorded conversations and written down interactions between healthcare professionals and residents from the home. These recorded interactions illustrate both heartbreaking moments of miscommunication, and glowing moments of connection.

Matthew says, “I worked in aged care as a carer and lifestyle staff. The bulk of the play is actually diary entries from when I started working in The Fish Bowl as a carer. We wanted to give a rounded accurate perspective of societal perspective on dementia care. This is why we conducted so many interviews.”

The interviews that the team conducted included Dr Tim Sergeant, Head of Lysosomal Health in Ageing at SAHMRI, who helped them understand what Dementia is and the varying way it affects the brain. Also, Dementia Australia’s Ann Pietsch, who they says is filled with wisdom and lived experience of what it is like to live with Dementia in the community. 

“The carers, nurses, residents and family we interviewed created a beautiful collage of all the moving parts in the daily working of a memory unit. Highlight beautiful moments of connection and heart breaking moments when there isn’t enough time,” says Matthew.

The audio of these interviews are included within the play during many key moments.

The Fish Bowl is showing at Holden Street Theatres for Adelaide Fringe.

The Fish Bowl

7 – 19 March 2023

The Studio, Holden Street Theatres

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