Arts / When King lear loses his way

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Justus Neumann in “Alzheimer Symphony”… affirming his belief in the capacity of all people to achieve “creativity and confidence”.
Justus Neumann in “Alzheimer Symphony”… affirming his belief in the capacity of all people to achieve “creativity and confidence”.

WE’RE about to experience a little bit of Viennese-Australian artist Justus Neumann’s unorthodox magic when he appears at The Street Theatre in the prize-winning “Alzheimer Symphony”.

It’s a part of “Segue” (May 5-15), a festival exploring the interplay between Australia and Europe that also includes “Swing”, a play from Ireland’s Fishamble: The New Play Company, flamenco dance, jazz and world music in “Bandaluzia” and “stCloud”, an eight-day drawing performance by Gosia Wlodarczak.

I catch up with Neumann as he’s about to take a ferry to Bruny Island on the south-east coast of Tasmania, where he lives. A leading member of the Vienna Schauspielhaus Ensemble in the ‘70s and ‘80s, he migrated to Australia in 1987 and settled on Bruny.

Neumann divides his time between Tasmania, Europe and Victoria. His School of Fantasy, in which he teaches actors, clowns, children, teachers, parents and old and sick people how to regain and discover their own creativity, is world-famous.

“Alzheimer Symphony” is the result of a tight collaboration between Neumann and long-time director and co-scriptwriter, Hans Peter Horner. Backed with a musical score by Julius Schwing, the play affirms his belief in the capacity of all people to achieve “creativity and confidence”. It’s already won three prizes in Tasmania’s “Errol” (Flynn) Awards.

Audiences can expect to see Neumann in a tour-de-force performance as an ageing actor trying to play King Lear – one of the actor’s own great roles – while slipping into dementia or, as some would say, “losing his marbles”.

It’s that “losing your marbles” kind of thinking that has Neumann on the warpath. For when he and Horner researched the condition, improvised and recorded a script of many hours and then trimmed it down to play length, they discovered that amid the fear and the shame, people experiencing dementia can escape into a more beautiful, less-stressful world.

His character has moments of joy and humour as his “inner child” is released, bringing trust and acceptance. The Street, joining with Alzheimer’s Australia (national and ACT), will take up this question in Q&As.

Neumann is not about to deceive audiences, though, and says that if you’re thinking of bringing a friend with dementia it’s best to talk to them and give them the choice.

“Alzheimer Symphony”, The Street Theatre, May 5-8, bookings to thestreet.org.au or 6247 1223.

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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