This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit

Disability Arts Online

> > > Vital Xposure presents Julie McNamara’s Let Me Stay

13 March 2014

Julie McNamara photographed on stage with open arms, in front of a screen presenting a large image of her mother, Shirley

Julie McNamara on stage in 'Let Me Stay'. Photo © Lesley Willis

Described as A tender and unique exploration of the impact of Alzheimer's on family relations, Julie McNamara’s Let Me Stay evokes her mother's songs and stories to create a personal piece of theatrical storytelling. Cath Nichols saw the performance at the Bluecoats, Liverpool on12th March.

A theatre performance about Alzheimer’s is going to be a difficult piece to sell to an audience I would have thought. Controversially, pre-publicity for Let Me Stay suggested that Alzheimer’s might be ‘a lifestyle choice’. However, this was perhaps a misleading statement (and has been replaced by reviews on the website). I can reassure potential audiences that only when Julie’s mother Shirley has lost her ability to self-censor and comes out with outrageous comments in public, does Julie say, “I swear at some point she’s enjoying this” - which may be a familiar exasperation felt by other carers, and did not feel like a judgment.

The stage was a white circle with a backdrop of white cardboard boxes, a few showing pink insides. There was a pink swivel chair and some sparkly shoes: a set that was coded ‘feminine’ yet vaguely empty, making a change from the ‘black box’ of much solo theatrical work. To the left there was a smaller white circle.

The performance began when Karl Llorca took this spot to start BSL signing the song Dream a Little Dream of Me. The lyrics, including ‘Stars fading but I linger on, dear,’ were expressively adapted to sign and movement, vividly retaining the emotion of this and other songs. Most of the BSL was to the left of the stage but at times Karl roamed with Julie; a couple of times they interacted over a prop on the ‘main’ stage.

Julie entered in the guise of her mother and greeted the front row enthusiastically. Julie says that this is how her mother presents herself and that as she has aged so she will both give everyone plenty of attention, squeezing their cheeks, but also expect lots of attention.

The local street party for the Queen’s diamond jubilee is for her. Shirley is taken to an awards ceremony at the Hilton where she inspects all the waiting staff and then talks to a reporter about Julie: “Her father was a poet, you know.” “Was he? Was he published anywhere?” “…I don’t know! I’ve never met him.”

The stories enacted frequently showed the amusing impact on Julie; the potential for embarrassment, the conversations that ‘get stuck’ or lost. The moment when the social worker comes round changes this. We see that Shirley’s perception of reality has become detached from what is possible for her. Her ability to care for herself has ebbed away. She is losing weight. Her ability to feed (in fact over-feed) her dog has taken its place. At which point Gretel the dog, as embodied by Julie, makes an exuberant entrance.

Let Me Stay is a celebration of the life of Shirley McNamara. Some might say it glosses over the difficulties of living with a person with Alzheimer’s, especially where defensive confusion becomes aggressive, but an artwork can only be one person’s vision (or version), not everyone’s.

There were enough bitter-sweet moments from Julie and Shirley for the audience to ‘fill in the gaps’ and appreciate their relationship, particularly when we heard recordings of the two singing together. This performance stands as an engaging elegy-for-the-living that must surely stimulate conversation amongst any audience that engages with it.

Please click on this link to go to Dao's listings pages for further tour details


Joey Hateley

9 April 2014

When will I, my parents, lovers or friends become lost to this degenerative disease?

I was touched inspired broken and uplifted by this intimate universal journey through the home, heart and mind...

Denise Greatbanks

28 March 2014

What a heart-warming, thought provoking play about a mother and daughter's struggle with dementia. Julie Mc was excellent...everyone knows someone who is doing their best to come to terms with Alzheimer's, ageing and their accompanying tribulations. I'd recommend anyone come and see this play. Absolutely fabulous!

Liz Sayce

24 March 2014

At last a play that engages with the experience of dementia from the perspective of the person living through it and turns the usual hackneyed narrative of tragedy on its head. The play is funny, poignant and hope inspiring. Excellent. Liz Sayce Chief Executive, Disability Rights UK

Dr Rachel Perkins

23 March 2014

I went to the opening night at Dugdale Theatre. Absolutely brilliant! No-one else but Julie McNamara could write a play about dementia that leaves a rosy glow inside. It is about time someone showed the possibility of living well with dementia. Too often the messages we hear are filled with doom and gloom. Well done!

Elaine Collins

15 March 2014

This performance was a wonderful, touching piece of theatre which represented a daughter's unconditional love for her mother. The effects of Alzheimer's on this warm,personal relationship was sensitively delivered by Julie McNamara with humour, which providing laughs, tears and a sincere approach to how delicate the human condition can be. Not to be missed.

Judith Johnson

15 March 2014

I absolutely loved this show. It was touching and moving but at the same time really made me laugh so much. Such a brave performance too. Not only does Julie MacNamara play her own mother, she plays herself and her own honest reactions to her Mum's developing dementia, and she does it all through pure compelling storytelling, straight from the heart. Real proper theatre.

Carol Ackroyd

15 March 2014

A devastatingly honest, beautifully observed and incredibly funny performance. The words reflected truthfully on the reality of dementia and the pain and grief it brings, At the same time the writing transformed everyday horrors and simple errors into humour that had me laughing out loud in sympathy and recognition. Writing like this requires a very deep and special appreciation of life and disability. Converting the words into multiple plausible, funny and complex characters requires great acting talent. Julie has managed it all. What a marvelous performance. The set, comprising a fading family history slideshow projected, fragmented, onto boxes, was a perfect visual reflection of the theme of the performance. Don't miss it!

Andrew Risner

15 March 2014

Having just recently come to terms with my own mothers diagnosis of Alzheimer's, 'Let me stay' was a thoughtful yet beautifully told story of a daughter and mother coming to terms with this potentially devastating prognosis.

From early signs to visiting in a care home Julie McNamara gently and lovingly opens up a window for us to look through.

I left feeling moved and a little more optimistic about what lays ahead in my journey with my own mother.

Do go and see this powerful show if you can.

Bill Dynes

14 March 2014

Saw this performance just last night and I'm still smiling! Poignant, but not maudlin, respectful while often hysterically funny, A brilliantly portrayed celebration of a unique life. I heartily recommend it!

Add a comment

Please leave your comments. They will display when submitted. DAO encourages critical feedback, but please be considerate. DAO reserves the right to edit or remove comments that don't comply with our editorial policy, which you can find on DAOs 'About' pages.

Your e-mail address will not be revealed to the public.
HTML is forbidden, but line-breaks will be retained.
This can be a URL of an image or a YouTube, MySpaceTV or a Flickr page (we'll handle the media embedding from there!)
This is to prevent automatic submissions.