Last Night’s TV – Wonderland, Alzheimer’s: The Musical

by Lynn Connolly

Wonderland, Alzheimer’s The Musical

This episode was, regrettably, the last of BBC2’s Wonderland series, and what a worthy series it’s been, with it’s curtain call one of the most moving documentaries I’ve seen in a long time.

Alzheimer’s surely has to be one of the cruelest of diseases; it robs the sufferer of everything familiar and robs the sufferers’ families of the person they’ve known and loved.

As one remarkable man said of his wife Hilda during this film – succinctly and poetically summing up the hideous effects of Alzheimer’s – “I can’t reach her. She’s gone, disappeared. She’s a lovely little stranger, but that’s all she is now.”

How beautifully put and this was just one poignant moment in a documentary full of them. My eyes weren’t dry from start to finish, but yet again, I marveled at the astounding resilience of people. People such as Tony who has found that though his wife Valerie has Alzheimer’s and is often to be found in her own misty-confused world, their relationship as man and wife has taken on a new depth…

“I certainly don’t feel I’ve lost my wife. Valerie’s still here. In fact, there’s much more kissing now” Tony said with an astoundingly glass-half-full attitude.

And it was that sentiment that was echoed often, especially as the scenes of sufferers and their loved ones singing along to old tunes were played. The Alzheimer’s Society has recognised – though ‘science’ hasn’t per se – that music can have a profoundly positive effect on those with this illness, and judging by the sheer joy that emanated and resounded along with the music, Singing for the Brain clearly works. Even if only for a little while.

The irony of Alzheimer’s is that though its victims may have little clue what’s going on or who people are, there are some things that are lodged firmly into their undamaged brain cells, and the joy of song seems to be one of them.

Smiles, dancing and singing along were the main order of the day for people who may not even remember who their children are. It was both a joy and painful to see. In fact, joy and pain were in equal measure throughout this film, and the painful parts really did sting. For instance, we saw how Frances is rather afraid of her husband Will, the man she’s loved most of her adult life.

He was verbally abusive and even physically abusive at times, so not unnaturally, Frances was nervous around him but she wrongly surmised that she wasn’t coping well. The worst of it, arguably, was that she knew he could well get very much worse. It really does make you wonder at just how much ordinary people can take when pushed to it.

Joseph Bullman, who made this film, managed to capture little snapshots of lives that’ve been shattered and are being held together by the tenacious glue of love and compassion. Like a windscreen that’s been hit by a stone, the whole thing could come apart at any moment, but while it holds, though the view may be distorted, it keeps out the worst of the weather.

And judging by those we met in Bullman’s film, that glue contains other vital ingredients such as dignity and pride too. What remarkable people.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.