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A tale of loneliness; A new play highlights what it's like to be lonely in old age, with members of a housing association taking on the acting roles, writes Jenny White.

THE loneliness and isolation experienced by older people in Wales is explored in a new play being staged before Assembly Members and the public at The Pierhead in Cardiff on July 16. The play, entitled Are You Lonesome Tonight, has been created by Newport-based Reality Theatre working with residents of Derwen Cymru, a housing association in Newport dedicated to older people.

Performed by Derwen Cymru residents, it is their direct response to the Welsh Government's recent consultation on loneliness and isolation. Reality Theatre, a community interest company that aims to bring about social change through theatre and music, is producing the play as part of a project focused on alleviating loneliness and isolation in older people through arts and culture.

"We have been working with Derwen Cymru residents in Newport, funded by Pobl Trust, and we put on monthly social events, meet weekly for a Creative Cafe, where we plan, organise and rehearse for performances, hold workshops, and so on," says Reality Theatre founder Juls Benson.

"During the period, I've attended many events and conferences based upon the issues facing older people, but what I found frustrating was that typically the room is full of professionals and practitioners and experts, all with very valid experience and skills, yet what seemed to be missing was the presence of the very people being discussed - the older people.

"We decided, along with the older people with whom we were working, that we would take their stories to the forefront and make people listen to them, instead of talking about them. Our ultimate aim is to show the reality of loneliness and isolation for many older people living in our communities."

The participants explored some of the causes of loneliness, including loss, bereavement, confidence, ill-health, mobility, lack of friendship and companionship, mental ill-health, poverty and pensions.

"We tried to include as many aspects as we could, particularly the issues which were evidently important to the residents, which gives us a clearer picture of what is affecting them - the key ones being loss and bereavement, lack of access to GP or medical support, arthritis and long waiting lists for hip and knee replacements," says Benson. "Unfortunately, what became clear is that there are no answers, no easy solutions."

While the project has explored some very serious issues, it has also been an overwhelmingly positive experience for those involved.

"I love seeing the residents grow in confidence and skill, seeing the creativity and the ideas flowing, and seeing them up there, on the stage, most of them in their seventies, acting for the first time in their lives," says Benson. "I love working with the residents - their sense of humour, their attitudes, the banter.

"They are no different to the teenagers I taught in my previous career - forgetting their scripts, not learning their lines, disappearing for a cigarette instead of being on stage, skipping rehearsals, telling me that something I want to do is 'stupid'. I also love seeing the friendships grow, the sense of empowerment that is coming. And we also have our first love affair - two bereaved residents met because of our project and have fallen in love."

The residents are proud to be staging the play in front of Assembly Members in the Pierhead Main Hall. The play does not pull any punches and is fearless in its criticism of the Government and its exploration of the harsh realities of growing old and isolated.

One of the performers, Carol Beaumont, 72, says: "I look forward to performing at the Welsh Assembly for one reason - after attending various meetings for three years on isolation and loneliness with no positive outcome, perhaps this visit will stir guilty consciences in many of the people watching. I ask the Assembly Members to listen to our words.

"We're not there to have fun, we want them to know how it feels to grow old. For some of us, not much has changed, except for the way we look when looking in the mirror, but for others it's a different way of life - no family, few friends and in some cases, a disability that makes them housebound."

| The play will be staged on Tuesday, July 16 at 12.30pm in the Pierhead Main Hall and is open to the public. Tickets are free from www.

We decided, along with the older people with whom we were working, that we would take their stories to the forefront
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 6, 2019
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