Finally, back in-person and indoors, Commedia of Errors are once again bringing their Plays Aloud programme to vulnerable older people, sharing some Christmas craic with audiences across Northern Ireland.

A brand-new nostalgia filled Christmas show featuring classic tunes, comedy and more will be touring to care homes, nursing homes and dementia care units across NI this December.

Plays Aloud’s digital, and socially distanced ‘outdoors-in’ performances have been in high demand all through the pandemic, but residents are delighted to be getting back to normal and to be able to welcome performers back into their living rooms!

This ambitious Christmas programme is principally funded by Arts Council Northern Ireland’s Arts and Older People Programme and Halifax Foundation NI, with support from Public Health, The Baring Foundation, and is made with partners Radius Housing.

Plays Aloud has been bringing their dementia specialist variety show into nursing homes, care homes, dementia units and folds since 2017. Each performance is specially curated to invigorate and reenergise older audiences, improving mental health and slowing dementia related decline.

In 2020, the pandemic temporarily put a stop to the programme, but unperturbed, company founders Benjamin Gould and Clare McMahon (working with programme partners Radius Housing and Accidental Theatre) digitised, creating Plays Aloud At Home. Through a combination of live streaming and bespoke made DVD recordings, the company broadcast their hit variety show six times to the TV’s of over 1400 beneficiaries since June 2020. They received Highly Commended by Arts & Business ‘Mental Health & Wellbeing Award’ 2021. Finally, as they pandemic abates, they are returning to in-person performances for their cherished older audiences.

Audiences of the programme are always positive: One care worker said, “They loved every minute of it.”

An audience member commented, “Better than the BBC!” Another added, “Don’t underestimate the value of this resource you have given us – Keep it up!”

The project has even been endorsed by Daniel O’Donnell who observed, ‘‘Plays Aloud At Home is engaging with the most vulnerable in our communities. It really is inspiring…long may it continue!’’

This Christmas the programme will feature two pairs of performers touring to the lounges of care facilities in every county of Northern Ireland.

Lorraine Calderwood, Community Arts Development Officer at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, explained how the Arts and Older People’s Programme is making a difference to the lives of older people across the region: “The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is delighted to support Commedia of Errors’ Plays Aloud programme. Research has proven that taking part in arts activities can raise self-esteem, confidence and motivation, as well as aid in relieving stress.

“The Arts and Older People Programme is committed to providing meaningful opportunities for our older people to take part in arts activities, enriching their lives for the better. As we emerge from the extra challenges faced by older people as a result of the pandemic, participating in the arts is now more important than ever. 

“The arts have a vital role to play in helping older people find their voice thus promoting positive physical and mental health. Thanks to The National Lottery, Public Health Agency and Baring Foundation, the Arts Council is hugely proud to have supported 250 projects benefitting older people since the programme began.”

Plays Aloud At Home is the brainchild of local theatre makers Clare McMahon and Benjamin Gould in partnership with Radius Housing. McMahon and Gould also recently collaborated to bring McMahon’s play, ‘The Gap Year’, to sell-out audiences at the Lyric Theatre. They have previously worked together to bring smash hit ‘I Am Maura’, and the sell-out ‘Shakespeare’s Women’ to audiences across Northern Ireland.

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