The all-too-real world of the nursing home takes a turn for the surreal in the the return season of Theatre Kantanka’s highly acclaimed production, Missing the Bus to David Jones, coming to the Seymour Centre next week.
The piece was born out of an intensive period of research in private and publicly-funded nursing homes around Sydney in 2008, with the result being a dreamlike representation of what life is like for their residents.
“I always found nursing homes a bit daunting, a bit sad and depressing,” David Jones director Carlos Gomes told the Star Observer in a break between rehearsals in Lilyfield.
“As I got older though, I got up the courage to look at them. I got some performers together and we spent a month looking at different residences. Several nursing homes opened the door for us to come in and research. Then we were able to recreate a slice of this world on stage.”
The amount of interaction Gomes and his team were able to have with the residents of each facility depended on their mental fragility. In dementia wards, “they probably thought we were residents too. I know one lady thought we were all in an RSL,” he said.
“With people whose minds were still bright, we could have a deeper, more illuminating talk about their experiences of ageing. It was different for everyone, but we built a few friendships along the way.”
Indeed, many of the people they met attended the show during its 2009 Sydney run.
“They really enjoyed seeing their world on stage — it’s such a neglected, hidden away world,” Gomes said.
“But the show is not for the elderly people in nursing homes — it’s for the rest of us. We’re getting older and we all have to deal with ageing. There’s no way we can escape from that.”
If that sounds rather a grim message, it’s couched in a colourful, surreal show that mixes media and soundscapes with walking frames and oversized bibs, candy floss, balloons and dancing.
“It’s a balance between the humour and the pain. We create this surreal world, but we’re not cocooning the audience from the realities of life in a nursing audience.
“It’s a fine line, portraying old people on stage in a sometimes humorous way. But we’re trying to share the lives of the people we met, and tell the audience not to be scared.”
And Gomes’ aforementioned fear of nursing homes? It’s been replaced with a peace of mind about getting older.
“Visiting these places, I saw that it’s not so bad. They’re still bonding, smiling, having relationships, they’re still human. Life’s not over yet.
“I’ve learnt that it’s not that scary. We just need to prepare and we need to pay more attention to it.”
info: Missing the Bus to David Jones plays at the Seymour Centre from March 22-April 2. Visit www.seymourcentre.com