The Lion's Face: The name comes from the clinicial description of the Alzheimer face with features settling into “leonine impassivity.” Librettist Glyn Maxwell spent five years researching this opera about dementia and this shines through in his portrayal of the life of an Alzheimer's patient in a nursing home. Maxwell had substantial support and guidance from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London and pioneering dementia researcher Professor Simon Lovestone, both of whom allowed The Opera Group to sit in on clinical presentations about Alzheimer's as well as giving them access to both carers and sufferers.

Fflur Wyn and Dave Hill, photo by Alastair Muir
Fflur Wyn and Dave Hill, photo by Alastair Muir

The set was simple and effective with white chairs and tables, easy to replicate for a group on a stage of any size: part of the purpose of the piece was that The Opera Group should be able to take the work to venues across the country to inform people about the reality of the disease. As such the opera is extraordinarily effective. The cast is very small with just five members in total: the patient Michael D, his long-suffering wife, his carer, her young daughter and a doctor.

There are many small touches in the drama which will be all too familiar to the families of those who have had to cope either with dementia or any other mental disorder necessitating formal care. Endless visits to an unresponsive close relative juggled with the rest of one's life outside the care home are wonderfully and sensitively portrayed, as are the few bright moments when time spent is repaid in flashes of lucidity. A few steps between husband and wife remembering a dance they would have enjoyed together brought tears to my eyes, whilst the carer's falsely-bright smile whenever the wife left were all painfully real.

What makes this piece so very special is the way it encapsulates the feeling of living day in day out with Alzheimer's (or any mental disorder): the claustrophobia of the whole problem, the inability to see outside it or to put it into any sort of box so that as a close relative you can continue your normal life away from the care home. At the same time it allows the audience to see this as a way of life for many people in homes across the world, allowing you to feel kinship with people you do not know.

The carer's daughter, a young girl stuck in a nursing home where her mother is working, was sung with immense power and wonderful clarity by welsh soprano Fflur Wyn. Her acting of a 12 or 13 year old was acutely observed and her stage presence joyful. Dave Hill as Michael was very convincing as an Alzheimer's patient with his confusion writ large on his face and his body language defeated. He was ably supported by his wife, Elizabeth Sikora and carer Rachel Hynes. The pathos of the wife's situation was clear to see as, left behind in the final journey of her husband, she tried to cope with this reduced version of the man whom she had loved.

I have concentrated entirely on the drama of The Lion's Face because its power is immensely hard-hitting. I have seen many a play which is far less convincing and in my opinion the music acted best as a background to the drama, both in Michael's head and surrounding the action. The Lion's Face portrays a frightening real scenario with mental illness told to perfection by The Opera Group. Mental illness is all too often hidden under the carpet and this dramatisation is a very useful reminder of what living with this is like. It is not something you would wish to go to every week, but for a one-off I commend it.