Cafe #5 – Cognitive Decline: presentations and representations

King Lear is in towking-lear-2016n – and a new RSC production is on stage in Stratford-upon-Avon and on cinema screens. King Lear – the tragic figure of a powerful figure who loses bit by bit everything, from the material to the personal. Many commentators of Lear’s journey to his nadir had been in awe of Shakespeare’s capacity to capture and portray the subtleties of behavioural change associated with the cognitive decline characteristic of neurodegenerative diseases. It is probably true to say that every generation, nay!, every director and every audience tries to find their path to engaging with Lear’s destiny. If the themes of crumbling political power or that of family or state breakdown are relevant, for many middle-class westerners, the portrayal of cognitive decline that Lear suffers, and of which he is aware (*), is a focus of contemporary anxieties.

Using King Lear as the starting point, this Cafe Culturel event proposes a wider discussion on the general theme of how Cognitive Decline is variously represented in the arts and how those representations map on the clinical presentations. To set the scene, we will be helped by 3 outstanding guests: Tom de Freston, is an artist who just completed a Creative Fellowship at University of Birmingham and is currently the Artistic Director at the Wellcome Trust’s Medicine Unboxed. He recent work engaged directly with King Lear and produced various representations and interpretations of Poor Tom, a figure of madness and poverty, who might be seen as the personification of the disintegration into which the world of the play descends (more info –

Tom de Freston’s “Poor Tom”

Joining Tom, with be Prof. Russell Jackson, Emeritus Professor of Drama at Birmingham University, and whose work focuses on the relationship between text and performance, between presentation and representation.  The third member of the Panel is Dr.  Femi Oyebode,  Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Birmingham and  Consultant Psychiatrist for Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust and whose last book (2012) Madness at the Theatre traces the representations of this psychiatric disorder over the last two millennia.

The event, as all Cafe Culturel events is open not only for the students at the University of Birmingham (LANS, Drama, Film and Medical Students) but also to the public at large. The format is the usual cafe format: a 20 min presentation from each member of the panel, followed by a Q&A session, which will be chaired by one of our LANS students who is taking a major degree in Drama: Sam Forbes.

Emil C. Toescu


  • The date: Tue 18th Oct,
  • The time: 6:30 pm
  • The place: thinktank (entry through the Groups Entrance on Level 0, and there will be a member of staff there to greet.) and the event will take place in the cafe/picnic area.

-> Please note that there is access to all sorts of refreshments and snacks (but not hot food), and you are, as usually, strongly encouraged to take advantage of the bar being opened (and kept open especially for us).

For this event we are particularly grateful to thinktank and the Birmingham Museums Trust, for providing us with the facilities.

(*) “I am a very foolish fond old man, / Fourscore and upward, not an hour more or less;/ And, to deal plainly,/ I fear I am not in my perfect mind.


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