Rob Gee is a writer, poet, and comedian based in Leicester, whose best works include plays, Kevin, King of Egypt and Death. He is also known for his poetry, and workshops on creative writing and improvisation. Inspired by people and personal experiences, he is most recognised for Forget Me Not, in which he plays 15 different characters in a two-hour show.
What have you been up this week?
I am doing a conference at the moment about older people, a Dementia Champion conference.
Is Forget Me Not inspired by your background as a registered nurse?
Yes, I worked as a registered nurse for many, many years. It definitely is based on my experience as a student nurse in a dodgy elderly ward in the early 1990s, and I left. I wrote this piece based on my experience, but now it is used by the NHS as training for staff.
Did you ever expect it to be used by the NHS to train its staff on ethics?
It was completely unexpected. All I wanted was to write a comedy show and also, I wanted to talk about dementia. The fact that it was picked up by the NHS is fantastic. It was literally some health care managers who saw the show and said it was great for training. Since the Francis report came out for staff and healthcare trusts, there were a lot of problems. This report recommended that staff were supported in speaking out about abuse and things like that. The freedom to speak up was invented, where you can report concerns. It’s not considered whistleblowing anymore, but that’s basically what it is. And so, the staff is trained to report concerns.
When did you start writing the play?
I started writing it about five years ago. It’s been constantly touring for the last five years. It was really difficult to write because it’s a one-man show, so I play 15 characters – everyone in the show. Writing it was a nightmare! It can be tiring to do, but definitely not to watch.
Why did you correlate dementia and Alzheimer’s with a murder mystery?
As an artist, I’ve always wanted to write a one-person murder mystery, but then I’ve realised that to make a murder mystery work there must be a castle or an island. Then I thought back to my experiences in a ward 20 years ago; that was perfect because it was a challenge. I had some really good advice from a crime writer. He said to write out the plot from the point-of-view of the murderer; keep it as simple as possible, then you can put all the clues and complicate the plot.
What do you think people should consider when dealing with patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s?
First and foremost, remember that they’re still human beings. You treat people the way you want to be treated, and that doesn’t change if the person has a problem. Just be nice to people, that is really simple.
Was the play influenced by your experiences of witnessing abuse in one of the units you worked in?
The worst care I’ve ever witnessed was on the elderly ward as a student nurse, and I reported it, and no one spoke to me for the last week I was there. It was a male nurse who was test-pushing an old patient telling him to “piss off”. In 12 years, I saw both good and bad practices, but I think that was the worst practice I’ve ever seen.
You’re also writing poetry. What is your inspiration for writing poetry?
People. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
I can also see on your website that you are working with people in workshops.
Yes, I go to schools and I do workshops on improvisation, comedy sketches, creative writing, and poetry. It is a really nice, varied job, and I like it. I like it a lot.
Do you have any plans for the future?
I am working on a two-person show about the silliest thing, a story that amused me so much. It’s about two old fellows in Germany who escaped from a state care facility and ran off to a heavy metal festival. I really enjoyed writing the first draft.
You can watch the play on its last day (Thursday, 26 September) at Theatre Deli in Sheffield.
Featured image: Rob Gee / Theatre Deli