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Theatre pulls out the stops for dementia-friendly film screenings

A dementia-friendly screening of hit film The Greatest Showman was made extra special when Welsh National Opera singers enticed the cinema audience to its feet and a local school choir delivered stunning renditions of the movie’s biggest numbers.

“It was fantastic, I had the best time ever,” declared lifelong film and music fan Lorraine Williams following the screening in the historic Art Deco surroundings of Colwyn Bay’s Theatr Colwyn.
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In a collaboration with Theatr Colwyn, the Welsh National Opera (WNO) team, based at Venue Cymru, Llandudno, lead cinema audiences in singalongs once each month before every dementia-friendly movie screening begins.

The next one will be Mamma Mia! Here we go again at 2.30pm on Thursday, June 20.

The shows are much more informal than usual, with the house lights being left on while singing and dancing in the aisles by the audience is encouraged.

They are part of the UK-wide A Life More Ordinary project on dementia and memory loss.

The aim is to give people living with dementia who might find it difficult to sit still quietly during a normal film screening the opportunity to enjoy cultural events with their family, friends and carers in everyday settings like cinemas.

WNO Vocal Animateur Morgana Warren-Jones, Theatr Colwyn’s Joann Rae and Carers Trust North Wales Dementia Co-ordinator

Welsh National Opera (WNO) singers Sioned Foulkes and Morgana Warren-Jones, and accompanist Annette Bryn Parri got the audience in the mood by leading a ‘Come and Sing’ session of old-time songs for half an hour beforehand.

They had the delighted audience of all ages singing and dancing before the big film was shown complete with subtitles so everyone could join in with the now famous lyrics of The Greatest Showman’s chart-topping tunes.

Made to great acclaim in 2017, the tale of circus impresario PT Barnum, The Greatest Showman, stars Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron.

WNO youth and community projects leader, Morgana Warren Jones, herself an accomplished opera singer, was thrilled with the way it went.

She said: “They are joyful afternoons, there is such a buoyant vibe in the auditorium and all the audience visibly delights in joining in, whether they are living with dementia themselves, carers or just people who have seen that there is a film screening on and decided to come in and watch. They are an absolute pleasure to attend.”

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Usually the WNO team leads a second singalong during the film interval but on this occasion the spotlight was turned on a performance by the young choir from St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, Colwyn Bay. They took to the stage to sing two of the Golden Globe award-winning film’s smash hits, This is Me, and A Million Dreams.

Lorraine Williams who was accompanied on the cinema trip by her carers from Marine Court, Colwyn Bay, said having the school choir sing and WNO lead the audience interaction made the afternoon like a red-carpet premiere.

She was happy to discover the pianist was an old friend, WNO accompanist Annette Bryn Parri who invited Lorraine to join in some piano playing with her.

Carers Katy McHale and Olivia Winson love witnessing Lorraine’s ebullient personality shine through during the performances.

Katy said: “She has such a great time. Lorraine has always loved music. She played piano and guitar when she was younger, although she cannot read music. She’s extraordinary, she does it all by ear. Coming to these interactive dementia-friendly screenings triggers so many good memories and emotions for her.”

Chris Randall, from the United Church in Rhyl, which regularly takes groups along to the dementia-friendly screenings, added: .“Our members love coming here, they get immersed in the music and so enjoy joining in the old songs.”

The St Joseph’s School choir also performed the hit Mamma Mia from the box office sensation of the same name which will be June’s dementia friendly film screening.

St Joseph’s Deputy Head Beth Copp said the 18 choir members aged from seven to 11, were immensely excited about the chance to perform at Theatr Colwyn.

She added: “What makes it even more significant is that we have just been learning in school about the value of dementia-friendly projects and the importance of having dementia awareness champions in our community.”

Pupils Maya Grantham, 10, and Zac Macpherson, 11, said the day was unforgettable.

“To sing in a theatre this big is so exciting for a small choir like us, we’ve all been looking forward to it,” said Zac.

Maya added: “It’s an honour to be invited to sing for people living with dementia. We want to do our very best for them.”

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