My name is Max, I’m a theatre-maker and musician from London.
My grandfather Mike died with Alzheimer’s in 2015, and my grandmother Flora was also recently diagnosed with the disease. They were the perfect couple in my eyes, loving and kind, with a beautiful connection and a fiercely positive attitude, and at the end of last year I decided to record interviews with Flora to try and save as much of their story as I could while there was still time.
At that time I had just finished writing a song cycle based on the Orpheus & Eurydice myth - the tragic story of a man who journeys into the underworld to try to rescue his lover. He is permitted by Hades to take her back to the land of the living, but only if he can walk all the way there without once looking back to check if she is following. Just before they reach the surface, he loses faith and turns around – tragically losing her forever.
While interviewing Flora, I learnt that her and Mike had started a jazz club in their twenties called the Orpheus Club. This strange coincidence inspired a detective mission to trace this story back - I tried to track down any scrap of information about the club and the people who once frequented it. It turned out that the initial coincidence was the first of many! The parallels between their story and the myth were uncanny and wonderful, and what started as an archiving mission grew into an extraordinary exploration of memory, myth and the stories that connect us over time.
So I weaved my grandparents story through the songs I had written about Orpheus and Eurydice, and made a show, called STYX. At its heart, it aims to spread a more nuanced and hopeful understanding of Alzheimer’s and dementia, challenge misconceptions, and bring hope in the dark. It encourages audiences to examine their ideas about identity and memory, and to think about the ways the imprints and impacts we make in the world can outlast the decay of our synapses. It also explores the incredible power of music to unite fragments and bring back lost memories.
Making this show helped me to reconnect with Flora, to accept Mike’s passing, and to prepare myself emotionally for the coming months and years. It also felt amazing to know that I could immortalise some part of them in my work forever, and that every time we perform the show, their memory takes root in the hearts of others, and can live on through them in some small way. I hope that people with experience of Alzheimer’s and dementia can also find hope and respite by watching the show!
We did our first run in Perth in January, where we won an award, and now we’ve been invited to play at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in August, and in London in September! I’m thrilled that we have this opportunity to expand this important conversation, and with a bunch of post-show talks and satellite events, I think we’ve got a really exciting programme planned.
If you’re interested in learning more about the show, or coming along to see it, please visit the show’s website. I’d love to see you all there, I really hope you can make it!
We’re also running a Kickstarter at the moment to help cover some of our costs – playing at the Fringe is a really expensive venture! We’d be hugely grateful if you could visit the page and consider supporting the show, we need all the help we can get to make it all possible! Every pound really helps, and there are also some great rewards on offer.
If you feel inspired to do so, I’d also be incredibly thankful if you could spread the word by sending this story to family and friends. I think we’ve got a really beautiful show here and we want as many people as possible to experience it!
Many thanks and all the best with your own journeys!