by The Mad Grad blog

Seamless. The word that sums up Haylo Theatre’s ‘Over the Garden Fence’ in one.

Take all your perceptions of Dementia – ‘the disease that makes you go barmy, loopy and eccentric’ – and swipe them under the carpet. Actually no, screw that. Pick them up and lob them out the window as far as you can possibly throw them. That’s exactly what Haylo Theatre did.

A story about memories, family and friendships, the play is nothing short of a beautiful masterpiece. Stunningly written, flawlessly performed and without a shadow of a doubt the highlight of my Edinburgh Fringe experience.

Putting a spin on things, the incredibly talented duo told the journey of Dementia as though it was a library. Likening our minds to a fragile library where all of our memories, beliefs and emotions are stored as books. Some yellow, some missing pages and some slightly tattered, but all in a place where only we know where we put them.

Set up in a tiny studio, just off Infirmary Street, the performance was an incredibly intimate experience. Only arms length away from the performers and with nothing but a small coffee table and a couple of make-shift garden fences, it felt as though I was part of the performance and the play was about my life. And how true that was.

Striking a chord with every emotion, the performance pulled on each and every heart string and stirred feelings I didn’t even know I had. From tears of laughter at Hayley’s remarkable ability to nail every single punchline – the dog and the diet was my favourite one – but don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you. To then a stream, in fact scrap that a flood, of tears of happiness as many of my own personal memories were uprooted.

After losing my Grandad Jim, the ‘Big Fella’ as we always used to call him, a couple of years ago to the disease, Dementia is a subject which lies extremely close to my heart. The nattering neighbours, the hopeless social workers and the fungal toe infection, they were all things my family had experienced all too often.

Not quite knowing what to expect, I wasn’t sure whether ‘Dementia’ and everything that came with it was something I’d rather forget – as ironic as that sounds. How wrong I was. In fact, it completely changed how I felt. Written with so much thought, many of the lines stayed with me long after the show, with one in particular. The opening line, ‘What if the things we remember are more real than the things we see’, so perfectly told by ‘Annabelle’ played by the talented Hayley Riley has stayed with me long after Saturday’s performance.

Watching the show, my Grandad’s cheeky smile, his gentlemen ways and his belly-laughing stories felt more real than ever. The moment Louise Evans, who simultaneously played Grandma and Grandad, re-enacted the first time they met sent shivers down my spine and filled me with tears for the rest of the performance. Her ability to swap and change from one character to another was not only commendable but utterly faultless.

Throughout the performance, I felt as as though my own Grandad was standing right in front telling me the stories all over again. But, this time even more crisp and certainly even more funnier. The story in the play of burnt turkey at Christmas reminded me of my favourite story; the donkey and the newsagent. The time my Grandad ‘borrowed’ a donkey from the field and placed it inside the corner shop to distract the newsagent, while he leant over the counter to swipe a packet of cigarettes. He always liked to miss out the bits that happened after that.

That story always reminded me that he never forgot. He just always picked his ‘favourite book off the shelf’ every time I went to see him. He didn’t waste his time trying to prove to me he could ‘remember the Prime Minister’s address’ as the play perfectly put. Instead, he spent every single time telling me I’d put on weight and that my face had ‘filled out a lot more since last time’ (that’s made me chuckle). I loved his honesty, however brutal it may have sounded at the time.

Weirdly or weirdly not, the play gave me closure. It made me realise something I guess I couldn’t understand at the time as he was slowly affected by the ‘disease’. It’s not a disease and it’s not something we should be scared of. Yes, sometimes he forgot the time and he forgot that he had already eaten his bread and butter pudding and couldn’t have another one (all tactics to get a second helping if you ask me). But as the play beautifully showed, these memories are irrelevant, he had much more funnier memories that took up more space.

Overall, the play which was executed so well didn’t leave a dry eye in the house – and rightly so. Ending with a standing ovation, the play was an incredible experience and a credit to Hayley and Louise who absolutely outdone themselves.


by Ben Huxley

Haylo Theatre, named after its founders Hayley Riley and Louise Evans (Hayley, Louise – Hay-Lo), is a company based in North West England. Their purpose, to quote their website, is to create “bespoke performances and workshops that initiate inter-generational conversations around difficult subjects, such as the impact of health upon the individuals, families and communities”. If “health” and “difficult subjects” put you off, and it’s understandable if they do, then, strangely, their play Over the Garden Fence is aimed at you more than anyone.

The piece was written by Riley and Evans, who happen to be the sole performers – yet for a two-hander there are plenty of roles. It isn’t a conventional play by any means, but the closest we have to protagonists are Annabelle and Dolly; a young girl and her grandmother, played by Riley and Evans respectively. Dolly, we soon find out, has dementia. In a series of scenes, sketches and vignettes, the audience is taken through the key stages of Dolly’s illness.

The set is simple; a gateleg table in centre stage with two wooden fences on either side. It might sound concise, but anything more elaborate would run the risk of drawing our attention from the acting. The scenes featuring Annabelle and Dolly take place in the centre, as do a few flashbacks. The fences, however, are used for the namesake Over the Garden Fence dialogues.

These dialogues are between the colourful neighbours of Dolly; some know her well, others know of her, and many don’t really know her at all. Our two actors play out a variety of neighbourly gossips, changing from one character to another in quick succession. These segments are hilarious – Riley and Evans have flawless comic timing – but they have a structural purpose too. They break up the show into chronological stages; after each segment, Dolly’s illness has evidently progressed, and this is ingeniously represented in what the neighbours say.

The narrative of Annabelle and Dolly asks us to think about something – what if our memories become more “real” to us than our present experience – so much so that they become our present experience? Dolly insists on bringing a suitcase of what her daughter regards as junk into her nursing home. With each item in the case, we relive a moment of her life – from her girlhood in the thirties to a Christmas not so long ago. We, along with Annabelle, learn the reason for Dolly’s desire to keep these items – items that couldn’t be further from junk – and why they’re more precious than anything else. Without giving too much away, the items unweave Dolly’s life before our eyes – a likeable, funny, and loving woman. These items are her memories, and in her condition, memories are all she has.

With snappy dialogue and a wicked sense of humour, this piece never veers into the territory of sentimental melodrama. It has poignancy, however, but this is sporadic – which makes it all the more effective when it happens, especially juxtaposed with the laugh-out-loud comedy. But what makes this piece so special, and what Haylo Theatre should be most proud of, is its joyousness. Rather than lamenting the effects of dementia, it celebrates a life. The reason you should see it, especially if you’re put off by tricky subjects, is because it takes something that’s usually seen has harrowing, and creates something quite beautiful.


by Lorna Didsbury

It was the perfect setting to see Over the Garden Fence, a brilliant two-woman show written and performed by Hayley Riley and Louise Evans, about the simultaneously tragic and comedic aspects of dementia.

The play follows Annabelle and her grandmother Dolly, retracing memories and moments in Dolly’s life, up to the present day and outlining the onset of her dementia. If you have ever experienced anyone close to you develop dementia, you will know that while it is a devastating illness for both the person and their loved ones to deal with, it produces all kinds of moments which can be ridiculous in their hilarity.

They do say if you don’t laugh you’ll cry – and that’s the balance Riley and Evans strike in Over the Garden Fence. The play chronicles flashbacks of Dolly’s life, including those memories recalled several times with opposing descriptions. Such as when Dolly met Annabelle’s grandfather on a beautiful sunny day, or was it during the storm to end all storms?

It also tersely confronts the way in which society views not only dementia but also what is perceived to be ‘normal’ behaviour. This is explored brilliantly through the chit-chat and gossip of Dolly’s neighbours – conducted like Chinese whispers over their garden fences.

The neighbour’s snapshots of Dolly’s increasingly erratic or unusual behaviour magnifies that there is still a huge way to go in societal understanding and care for those with such conditions. Often when people are uninformed, or even fearful of something, the default reaction is to have your two penneth anyway – and while no malice may be intended by neighbours, some of whom were once friends of Dolly, ultimately their reactions are the most sombre parts of the production.

While the majority of the play takes place inside Dolly’s front room and inside her not yet forgotten memories, granddaughter Annnabelle maintains patience and humour as she helps her grandmother come to terms with some of the harsher realities of her failing mind.

The play was thoroughly well thought out and humour certainly came in the right dose at the right times. The uncomplicated set and strong acting means I look forward to seeing much more from the duo and Haylo Theatre Company is definitely one to watch our for.


by Ben Huxley

Sisters, Seagulls and Sendoffs is a play about ideas; ideas that linger in the mind for hours after the performers leave the stage. One only hopes they continue to linger, because for a play about death and grieving, they are brimming with optimism. Much like their previous show, Over the Garden Fence, Haylo Theatre have used a subject commonly avoided – and often sugar-coated – to make a realistic piece of drama that inspires, among other things, hope.
“Life is made up of so many moments, the wonderfully happy times and incredibly sad, these moments are what life is made of, they are our story.” After these words, Hayley Riley and Louise Evans become their characters: Penny and Beth, respectively. Our protagonists are sisters who are about as different as siblings can be; Penny is comically bubbly and animated, while Beth is more reserved with a drier sense of humour. However, they both share a deep love for their father. When their father suddenly dies, it’s up to them to pick up both the figurative and literal pieces. In creating two contrasting characters, Haylo have cleverly presented two distinct ways of expressing grief.

In one of the key scenes, the two sisters are going through their father’s old things in the family home, deciding what to keep. Penny gets excited about everything she finds, even the items she’s never seen before; she wants to keep everything. This chirpy behaviour grates on Beth, who is visibly suffering and wants to get the whole ordeal out of the way. She aggressively enquires as to why her sister is so happy. It turns out she isn’t; of course, they’re both suffering. It’s common knowledge that people grieve in different ways, but it gives us pause to watch two characters trying to understand each other’s grief – especially of the same person, at the same time.

The set is kept to a minimum, while the clever use of props – in true Haylo fashion – breathes a creative quirkiness to the story. The central setting is the family home, where different items take us to different events in the girls’, and their father’s, life. From their parents’ first meeting on a blind date, to the father’s funeral, to Beth’s wedding – bittersweet due to dad’s absence – we hear a variety of stories. A particularly effective moment is when the sisters receive the unexpected news of their father’s passing. A doctor tells them, but we don’t hear any words. They sit facing the audience, as if we are the ones breaking it to them, and we see the shock and anguish engulf them, almost in slow motion. Beth looks pained and terror-struck, while Penny seems to fall into a numb trance; almost collapsing out of her chair, but for being caught by her sister.

Scenes like this might be difficult to watch for some, especially those for which grief is all too familiar, yet the nature of the whole piece is actually rather comforting. We return to the opening words: “Life is made up of so many moments, the wonderfully happy times and incredibly sad…” A simple but important line in the play is “it’s okay not to feel okay.” We all have our own unique stories. As the sisters tell us: were anyone in the audience to see their dad in the street, we wouldn’t look twice. But to them, he was a huge presence – now a massive gap – in their lives. So while it might seem like we’re suffering alone, it’s a process everyone goes through; just like the wonderfully happy times. And although we’re in pain, although we’re broken – it’s okay.

This was the first public performance of Sisters, Seagulls and Sendoffs, and the setting was perfect. Chester Storyhouse’s Garrett stage is an intimate setting, which seats 150, and on Friday 27th October, Riley and Evans made it work to their full advantage. It would be interesting to see it in a different setting – bigger or smaller – to witness what effects this would have. I hope they take it to Edinburgh, as they did with Over the Garden Fence, to show it to a wider audience.


by Ian D. Hall

Life is so much more than what the gossips, those that peddle the rumour mill around you and the idle talk of the garden fence brigade; however when your life starts to go down a certain path, when the fullness of your own memories start to dissipate into thin air, when the edges of the snapshot start to fade and lose definition, are you no more than the sum of the declining anecdote relied with glee by your neighbours?

In Haylo Theatre’s Over The Garden Fence, the life of a woman, which had been full of life, memories and passed down reminiscences, starts to crumble, not through outside forces but through the unravelling of thought, of forgetting and the after affects of what it does to a person’s spirit.

The issue of dementia is a tricky one in which to fully bring together on stage and Haylo’s Hayley Riley and Louise Evans must be congratulated for bringing the subject to the fore in a positive and encouraging way. The difficulty with showing with dignity the person going through the trying and frustrating crippling disease is one that is framed perfectly by adding the insidiousness of the curtain twitching brigade who are happy to sum up a person’s life in a moment’s lost thought. The many years that they may have known them reduced to the furtive raised eyebrow when something out of character happens.

Playing a myriad of female characters, the duo took the life of one woman and reconnected the confusion, the despair felt by the daughter and granddaughter as they slowly witnessed the decay, not of the body in which is more readily accepted, but of the mind. The death of the most important body part and one in which cannot be replaced.

In parts heartbreaking, in others joyfully engaging, Haylo Theatre showed the synaptic misfires, the breaking down of the soul in Over The Garden Fence with great endeavour and truth.


by Dan Osborne

‘Over The Garden Fence’ showcases the considerable talents of Hayley Riley and Louise Evans in a tale of memories and loss, tears and laughter that will surely live long in the minds of many of us lucky enough to witness this Fringe gem – and sadly there are to be no repeat performances this time around. This is the first production by the Haylo Theatre Company but I very much imagine it won’t be their last.

It is a simple enough tale – following her increasing dementia, Dolly Griffin is leaving the house she has lived in for 64 years to move into a home and is being helped by her granddaughter Annabelle to gather together a few treasured belongings to take with her. In the hands of these two assured actors things are by turns both moving and funny and as objects are sifted, we are regaled with stories ranging from a kitchen mishap resulting in an unintentionally vegetarian Christmas dinner to Dolly’s romantic first dance with her future husband Geoffrey. In one particularly moving scene, a childhood birthday party is soured by news of the war and scenes of birthday exuberance are intercut with slow motion enactments of frontline horror – at first recreated by them both but particularly effective and chilling when Dolly is experiencing horror whilst Annabelle is smiling and laughing along to the strains of Happy Birthday.

These versatile actors also show us the various “concerned” neighbours who delight in keeping the family informed of her increasingly bizarre behaviour – “She was outside in her slippers … nothing but her slippers”.

The acting is impeccable throughout with the production using the specifics of Dolly’s own experience to explore more universal themes such as the way memory can be so powerful that it can feel “more real in your mind than what you see”, despite being housed in the “fragile library of the mind”.

This was an excellent hour of Fringe entertainment. If you missed it, there is a chance to see it at the Bollington Arts Centre on Friday 14th November.


by Jamie Gaskin

Memory is a funny thing – it’s also sad, terrifying, exciting and wonderful. All of these and more are explored in this tight, well-crafted, simply staged offering by Haylo Theatre.

The start seems a little slow but the audience is soon enchanted by the everyday life of Dolly (Louise Evans) and her grand-daughter Annabelle (Hayley Riley). The women use real-life experiences to weave the tapestry in this painful yet witty look, not only at dementia, but the wider joys and setbacks of the often flawed memories we keep locked away.

This is not just a two-hander: Evans and Riley employ a wide-range of hats and bits to portray the neighbours all too willing to slag off Dolly’s weird antics. Much of the humour comes from these over-the-top characters, and much of the sadness from Dolly’s junk-box with bits from the past. They set her off down the very misty Memory Lane of her youth where our emotions are compelled to follow.

We want to hug Dolly when a birthday card triggers the dreadful day she loses her dad, and fully understand why her husband’s old coat whisks her away from her struggles with the life she is now ill-equipped to fathom. As Evans skillfully swings Dolly’s personality from determination to despair Riley’s Annabelle watches with a wide-eyed innocence almost afraid to show how desperate she is to try to make things right.

If you are interested in booking us for a performance or workshop please don’t hesitate to get in touch!