TV star Sharon Small in powerful Sheffield theatre story of dementia

Sharon Small in Still Alice
Sharon Small in Still Alice

Sharon Small is one very busy actor at the moment as she prepares to juggle TV and theatre roles.

The Inspector Lynley, Trust Me and Downton Abbey star has been working on a show just ahead of starting rehearsals for Still Alice.

She said: “I’m filming a drama called London Kills. It’s a 10-parter for American TV which hopefully will go on to British networks. It’s a procedural police drama.

“It’s good fun and fast moving and we solve a crime every episode. I get to play a really feisty Scot with a lot of attitude as a copper.”

The Glaswegian is happy to be playing a Scotswoman in the show:  “There’s a bit of improvisation occasionally so you need to be able to improvise in your own accent.

“I’m crossing over into rehearsals for Still Alice. It’s a 10-episode show and we’re filming an episode a week. I was used to doing eight hours of TV in five months for Linley. This is going fast!”

Sharon won a lot of fans for her role as Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers in The Inspector Lynley Mysteries.

That’s a while ago now, though, she said. “I did my last scene when my son was three months old. He’s now 12.

“The parameters were quite narrow for her. It was nice the bits she got to do but she never got to fall in love.

“As a copper you’re there for the structure. Other people come in and do the emotional stuff.”

That was the first time she got the chance to do drama around issues of Alzheimer’s or dementia, which her mother was living with in the show.

Portrayals are far more powerful and accurate now, Sharon said.

In Still Alice, she plays Alice Howland, a stubborn, clever and driven woman at the peak of her career.

Diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 50, she tries to remain as independent as possible and retain her personality as everything changes, affecting her relationships.

A 2014 film version of the story won Julianne Moore an Oscar.

The play was seen at Every Third Minute, a three-night festival of drama dealing with dementia, in Leeds.

“I met lots of people,” said Sharon. “They were really keen to make us understand how living with dementia isn’t a death sentence. It’s coping and working and still finding positives, not to be forgotten and written off.

“People who have it hold really high-powered jobs, they get bundled off, here’s your pension, bye bye.”

Sharon said: “Wendy Mitchell was our consultant on the play. She was living with dementia that was diagnosed at 56.”

Wendy keeps photos with people’s names on them. She still knows how she feels about those people, although she might have forgotten about them. “Those feelings stay really strong,” said Sharon. “You know you’ve got a good relationship and know you’ve loved them. I found that really powerful.”

In the play another actress voices Alice’s thoughts. Sharon said: “As I start to become less verbal or more muddled, as my brain is going. She’s saying ‘I’m stuck, help me, I don’t know what I’m going to do’.”

Inevitably, the play touches people. Sharon said: “I had a wonderful Irishman come up who had tears in his eyes. He said, ‘I’m 80 and that was my marriage at the end’.

“He made me cry so much, he said, ‘I want you to know how much I loved my wife. I had a fantastic marriage, it was really difficult at the end, you have to grieve before you let them go fully. You have to become attuned to the new person they are’.”