So, last night we went to see Paul Mayhew-Archer’s one man show: Incurable Optimist at the Soho Theatre.
We’ve seen Paul in action a couple of times before at Parkinson’s UK benefits: firstly at the Comedy Store and then again at the Royal Albert Hall, d’y’mind. Both of these were quite short turns but subsequently Paul has worked up an hour’s show which he took to Edinburgh last year.
Although he’s spent all his life working in comedy – scriptwriter, producer, commissioning editor for Radio Four – I believe that this is the first time he’s done anything substantial in the way of performance. It was great! Such a witty man.
The catalyst for writing the show was Paul’s diagnosis with the Condition of Champions. So some of the material came from his experience of being diagnosed and then living with Parkinson’s, and some from his life working in comedy. I’m not going to share any of the jokes in case you get the chance to see the show (which I thoroughly recommend, by the way.) But a couple of the topics he touched on struck me as particularly interesting.
The first was how humour can be an incredibly powerful way of preserving good memories for our friends and family. Paul M-A sadly lost his mother while he was in his early teens. She’d been ill for a long time but it wasn’t discussed within the family – he didn’t even know if she knew she was dying – and it obviously had been a traumatic experience for the lad. He said he finds it now really difficult to summon up memories of his mother. He shared his hopes that his own children will be able to remember things they’ve laughed about together: do you remember the time that… I’d never thought about the power of humour in relation to memories before. So, interesting.
The other thing that stood out for me was when he talked about the GDNF trial documentaries which I trailed in my last blog. “Had anyone seen them?” he asked.
Oh goodness, yes. Though not fully in focus, as I cried throughout. I don’t remember the last time I saw anything as powerful. The courage of the participants, the skills of the researchers, seeing Tom Isaacs again; a hard watch but brilliant and important.
And then the outcome, which was so disappointing; not because the drug didn’t work but because of the trial protocol. Paul Mayhew-Archer came up with a really good analogy: if you had a group of people with eyesight problems, you wouldn’t give them all the same prescription of spectacles and then be surprised if some of them couldn’t see better. Parkinson’s is in so many ways more of a spectrum then a discrete condition, which makes clinical trials extra challenging to organise. If you did see the documentaries (again, thoroughly recommended and still on catch up) you’d probably be interested in reading this blog by Bryn Williams, who was one of the participants.
In all, a really good evening. Here are Paul’s tour dates and, ok – just for you – his parting thought.
One person in every five hundred has Parkinson’s. That’s 127, 000 of us. Parkinson’s UK says that every hour of every day someone is told they have Parkinson’s. That’s really tough if you’re the one scheduled to get the phone call at 2 a.m.