Director Natasha Broadstock is drawn to the dark side when it comes to theatre, and art generally, so it comes as no surprise that her latest project is the disturbing and dark psychodrama, demens, by Amedeo Astorino.

“It’s a fascinating piece of writing, following four very troubled characters in a psychiatric hospital – a psychiatrist, a nurse and two patients – all fighting their own inner demons (‘demons’ + ‘dementia’ = demens). Each character is beautifully realised and I knew that my terrific cast would find many, many layers to them,” says Broadstock.

Melbourne based playwright Astorino was himself diagnosed with clinical depression in his twenties – the play is an exorcism of sorts but, says Broadstock, the play has a surprising amount of humour!

“A lot of the time, it’s the sort of humour that may well make you wince, but it’s to the credit of the actors that they bring the flashes of comedy to life in such a dark piece.”

Broadstock reveals that Astorino, was inspired to write demens when he was pondering what might have happened to Blanche DuBois at the end of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.

“With the central character of demens, Lilith, he has created a fascinating character who echoes Blanche in many ways – her pain, her vulnerability, her tragic past, her air of weary refinement, and her tenuous grip on reality. Streetcar is one of the greatest plays of the 20th century and Blanche is one of the greatest roles. It’s fascinating to see the luminous Louise Crawford recreate elements of Blanche in a modern-day setting.”

The faces of demens

Astorino has been writing for the theatre since 2000 and his work is well lauded as being insightful, honest and challenging. His themes are potent and relevant, reflecting a universality in his work

demens is no exception and explores a range of timeless themes. Broadstock outlines them below:


  • Prejudice – especially in relation to who we are ‘allowed’ to love/desire. The character of Allan (the effervescent Jai Luke) is persecuted for his homosexuality by the sadistic nurse Gabriel (chillingly played by Philip Cristian Claassen), and is also manipulated by the tortured psychiatrist Dr Osmond (an astonishing performance by Don Bridges, one of Melbourne’s finest character actors); while the character of Lilith obsesses over the tragic literary figures of Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary – fellow victims of society, who, like Lilith, were also ‘punished’ for daring to break moral and social boundaries.
  • Identity – who is sane and who isn’t? What is real and what is fantasy? And what is ‘sanity’ anyway?
  • The patriarchy, and the power balance between male and female.
  • The impact of our childhood experiences on who we become as an adult.
  • Religion and its relationship with ‘goodness’ (a clue: the one religious character in demens is a vicious Christian fundamentalist with delusions of grandeur …).

Broadstock has been in the theatre business for 35 years and, as  a creative, has discovered her particular penchant – not surprisingly, she is attracted to non-naturalistic works. her belief is that in theatre, we’re not bound by realism. “There is so much we can do to build a world that reflects the themes and emotions of the play through the creative use of lighting, set, sound and performance,” she says, “I also like to delve into pieces that explore the human psyche, just because it fascinates me so much.”

Dr Osmond 2 (Don Bridges)For Broadstock, demens ticks both boxes and then some. “It’s been a very exciting experience to work with a brilliant team of actors and designers to interpret and realise this poignant, yet gloriously twisted and unnerving script.”

Set in the claustrophobic world of a psychiatric hospital, demens is a poignant yet gloriously twisted and unnerving piece of theatre. . The play balances extreme pathos with flashes of (very) dark humour as it probes themes of identity, desire, patriarchy and prejudice through the eyes of four people. Each has suffered trauma. Each is damaged, but not broken. Yet.

This is chilling, thought-provoking theatre that explores the blurred boundary between sanity and insanity.


July 14 – 24

Bluestone Church Arts Space, 10A Hyde Street, Footscray