THE KEYS ARE IN THE MARGARINE a verbatim play about dementia

Arrowtown Athenaeum Hall, Arrowtown

02/10/2019 - 02/10/2019

Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

12/10/2019 - 13/10/2019

Te Whare o Rukutia, 20 Princes St, Dunedin

28/08/2022 - 28/08/2022

Artworks Theatre, Oneroa, Waiheke Island

02/09/2022 - 04/09/2022

ONEONESIX - 116 Bank Street, Whangarei

09/09/2022 - 11/09/2022

Arts on Tour NZ 2019

Production Details

Researched and written by Cindy Diver, Susie Lawless, Stuart Young
Directed by Stuart Young

Today, more than 60,000 New Zealanders live with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia – a number that is expected to triple by 2050. It is a condition none of us can ignore.  

Profound and enlightening, The Keys in the Margarine is a unique form of stagecraft, created from interviews with people with direct experience of the disease – caregivers, family members, doctors, and support workers.

In performance, actors re-present the edited testimony from those interviews. With the audio playing in their ears, they relay the original words and how those words are spoken – every vocal inflection, intonation, and hesitation, every physical gesture and facial expression.

Their stories communicate the all-encompassing effect dementia has on the lives of people living with the disease and the lives of everyone around them.

The Keys in the Margarine interweaves hilarity with heartbreak to poignant effect, while providing deep insights on what it means to be human. ‘Verbatim’ or ‘documentary’ theatre is real, mesmerising, and truthful.

“…..deeply absorbing theatre” John Smythe, Theatreview

“The work that has gone into the composition of this production deserve the highest of praise….The actors are phenomenal…Their grace and courage is astounding, as is that of the interviewees…Their efforts have resulted in a thoroughly moving production that raises vital and accessible awareness of dementia.”– Madelaine Empson, Regional News Wellington –

“…a moving and inspiring theatre experience. Highly recommended” – Brenda Harwood, The Star

Cindy Diver

Cindy Diver – Writer & Actor – PG Dip Grad (Distinction) Theatre Studies, University of Otago

Cindy is a Dunedin based professional actor, director, writer, casting director and the owner-manager of Theatreworks Ltd. Over the past 25 years she has worked full time in the theatre, television and film industry in a wide variety of roles.  A founding member of Kilimogo Productions, she served as the performer’s representative on the Fortune Theatre Trust Board for 10 years, and is currently on the board of Wow! Productions Trust.

Cindy has also been teaching and managing InterACT Drama Classes since 1996 and in 2008 was part of the original research team creating a unique form of documentary theatre at Otago University with the production Gathered in Confidence. She went on to perform in subsequent productions – Hush – a documentary play about family violence, Be|Longing – about immigration to NZ, and now the award winning piece The Keys are in the Margarine – a verbatim play about dementia.


Wednesday 2 October 7:30pm Arrowtown
Arrowtown Athenaeum Hall
$25 Book:
($5 from each ticket will be donated to Alzheimers New Zealand)

Thursday 3 October 7:30pm Lake Hawea
Lake Hawea Community Centre, Myra Street
$25.00 Book: Sailz, Lake Hawea; OCD Cafe at Lake Hawea Medical Centre.  Door sales

Friday 4 October 7:30pm Cromwell
Coronation Hall, 37 Hall Road, Bannockburn
Adults $25; SuperGold $20; Student/Child $5
Book:  and All Central Otago District iSites

Tuesday 8 October 7:30pm Twizel
Twizel Events Centre 
Adults $20; Student $10 Book: Twizel Info Centre
(Includes complimentary nibbles, cash bar available) 

Wednesday 9 October 6:00pm Ashburton 
Ashburton Trust Event Centre
‘Open Hat’ NO CHARGE prior to the event – No pre-booking

Saturday 12 October 7:30pm Wellington
Hannah Playhouse
Adult $35.00; Student (with ID) $28.00; Senior Citizen (65+) $28.00; Group discounts available

Sunday 13 October 3:00pm Wellington
Hannah Playhouse
Adult $35.00; Student (with ID) $28.00; Senior Citizen (65+) $28.00; Group discounts available

Monday 14 October 2:30pm Featherston
$36 and Gold Card entry $32
Book: eventfinda

Tuesday, 15 October 8:00pm Upper Hutt
Expressions Whirinaki Arts and Entertainment Centre
$20 Book:

Wednesday 16 October 6:30pm Masterton
Wesley Wing, Aratoi Museum
$36 and Gold Card entry $32 Book: eventfinda

Thursday 17 October 7:00pm Whakatane
The Liberty Centre
$20 Book: The Good Life, The Strand, Whakatane

Friday 18 October 7:30pm Opotiki
Opotiki Senior Citizens Hall
$20 Book: Purchase tickets at the Library or on line at

Saturday 19 October 7:30pm Hamilton 
Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts
Adults $28, Seniors & unwaged $23, Students with ID $13

Sunday 20 October 7:30pm Whanganui
Royal Wanganui Opera House
Adult $25, Senior/Student/Friends OH $20, Group discounts
Book: Royal Wanganui Opera House or

Arts On Tour NZ (AOTNZ) organises tours of outstanding New Zealand performers to rural and smaller centres in New Zealand. The trust receives funding from Creative New Zealand as well as support from Central Lakes Trust, Community Trust of Southland, Interislander, Otago Community Trust, Rata Foundation and the Southern Trust. AOTNZ liaises with local arts councils, repertory theatres and community groups to bring the best of musical and theatrical talent to country districts. The AOTNZ programme is environmentally sustainable – artists travel to their audiences rather than the reverse.

Brain Research New Zealand – Rangahau Roro Aotearoa is a national Centre of Research Excellence undertaking ground-breaking research on the ageing brain and ageing-related neurological disorders. We bring together New Zealand’s leading neuroscientists and clinicians and work with the community to    combat disorders like stroke, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Actors: Ross Johnston, Serena Cotton, Cindy Diver, and Hilary Norris

Directed by Stuart Young
Design by Martyn Roberts
Operated by Anna van der Bosch 

Verbatim , Theatre ,

1 hr 20 min

Deeply confronting and moving

Review by Kate Timms-Dean 30th Aug 2022

We’ve probably all said it – a moment of forgetfulness followed by the exclamation, “I must have Alzheimer’s!” We say it with a laugh and without thought, a simple common statement of frustration of our brain’s momentary blunder. But how often do we realise the actual pain that word connotes for some around us, how real the experience of others who have an intimate association with that word?

As I enter the room, it is crowded, dark but not too dark, and I see we are clustered around a low stage. Words on a screen provide a portent of the deep waters we are entering, while the stage is set with a strikingly normal array of furniture. It feels like we are watching through the window of someone’s life. Later when I think back, I realise how apt that ambience is.

“The Keys are in the Margarine – a verbatim play about dementia.”

These are the words the head up the programme for today’s theatrical delight. I puzzle; a verbatim play, what does that mean?

I read some more from the programme to see this description:

“A verbatim play is created from interviews with people who have direct experience of these conditions – caregivers, family, members, doctors, and the people themselves.”

I learn that the roots of this work are in research via interviews that capture the words and stories of those who have lived with dementia. The actors hear the words of these interviews and repeat them verbatim to us, to uncover and convey these hidden realities. As a one-time researcher and academic, I experience the familiar rush of wonder at the creativity of people, that they would imagine such a work binding real stories, research ethics, and performance.

Hush descends. The players enter. It strikes me how real and ordinary they are as they put on their headsets and settle in place, donning a jersey or a scarf. The air trembles with expectation as we wait. They seem so mundane. This word feels like an affront as it enters my mind, but no other synonym seems to fit, even later when I scour the thesaurus.

The four actors (Ross Johnston, Nadya Shaw Bennett, Cindy Diver, Serena Cotton) provide a conduit for seventeen voices, seventeen lives, those of the interviewees. At first, their characters are formless, they seem to bleed into each other, and the subtle changes of clothing and position seem random. Names appear on the slideshow behind them for a while, as the shift and flow from one name, one voice to another.

But slowly, the names disappear, and with good reason.

We don’t need them anymore.

From the voices and the delivery, channelling through the four onstage, these hidden people emerge, swelling into a semblance of three dimensions. The characters, the personalities; they sparkle, shimmer, and slowly start to shine. The players hit their stride; the people they are channelling become more real, fully fleshed through their skilful delivery and awesome characterisation.

By the end, we all feel like we know them somehow.

This is deeply confronting and moving stuff – these hidden lives, hidden worlds, struggling with increasingly hidden memories. The experience of a condition that is a by-line for a moment of forgetfulness. I realise how cruel I have been in using those words – “I must have Alzheimer’s!” No, Kate. No, you don’t.

And as the moment draws to a close, as the players shift back into themselves, and the link between them and those they are channelling snaps back shut, I am struck by the fundamentality of memory to human identity. Who are we but our memories?

And when the memories are gone, when even the recollection of how to tie a shoe, or hold a knife, or put on a coat, is gone, what is left of the person?

I walk to my car through the Octagon, pulling together the kaleidoscope of emotions that run through me. I am struck by my own memories and imagine them slowly drifting away. How would it feel to see your life disappear? Like drifting away, or drowning.

In te reo Māori, we use the word ‘maumahara’ to describe the act of remembering; literally referring to the act of carrying (mau) a though or memory (mahara). Memories are handed down through whānau and shared across generations, strengthening and re-establishing culture and identity. The forced letting go, the release of memory, unties the string that connects a person to those memories, that identify.

And I pray as I walk that that is a path I never have to walk alongside; I wish fervently that I will never watch the life and being of a beloved fade into nothingness, their memories slowly wicking away.

To lose yourself through the loss of your memories might be a peaceful thing, but to see that life draining out of someone you love – I send out a wish that that is a path I never walk.

And for those who have and do? He mihi nui ki a koutou. Kia kaha, kia māia, kia manawanui. I breathe out as I enter my car, sending love and strength out into the world. And I know, I’ll never say those careless words again.

For more information about dementia research and support:

Dementia Auckland

Alzheimer’s New Zealand

Brain Research NZ


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A gentle, well-crafted handling of a scary, sad, interesting and heartbreaking topic

Review by Claire O’Loughlin 14th Oct 2019

The Keys are in the Margarine is verbatim theatre about the experience of living with dementia, presented by Dunedin-based company Theatreworks. In this Arts on Tour version a cast of four perform the words and gestures of several people interviewed for the work, including medical specialists, nurses, family and partners of those with dementia, and those living with dementia themselves. It is informative, warm, generous, and carefully and perfectly pitched.

The show consists entirely of content from interviews, which have been fragmented and shuffled around into themes/chapters, making a script that builds and looks at the experience of dementia from several different points of view, very much like a documentary film.

For the first 10 minutes I find myself wondering what this form is doing that documentaries, Ted Talks and podcasts aren’t. I’m thinking, I can hear real stories from real people by opening a new browser tab, I don’t need this extra ‘middle man’ of theatre. For the first 10 minutes I’m sort of annoyed by the theatrics – using different costumes to delinate different interviewees seems a bit hammy, as do the spotlights that come up and down (and are sometimes slightly off in timing).

But soon these niggles fall away and I become completely absorded in the stories. I feel the whole audience around me leaning in as well. My eyes are glued to the actors who embody each interviewee so fully and with such uniqueness, precision and clarity that I forget there’s only four bodies onstage. The love and ease between couple Nigel and Tania, played by Ross Johnston and Serena Cotton, is a highlight, as is the natural, warm chatter between the three nurses (Hilary Norris, Cindy Diver and Cotton). It is also fascinating to observe ‘Kiwisms’. I find it surprisingly refreshing to see some honest Kiwi culture self-observation that isn’t in the form of self-depreciating jokes.

The production makes no ethical point, chosing rather to show lived experience as it is. It is a gentle, well-crafted handling of a scary, sad, interesting and heartbreaking topic.

This gentleness is needed. I am lucky to have not yet had a personal experience of dementia in my whānau, but it is clear many in the audience have. There is a lot of sniffling, whispering and knowing nodding around the room as these very specific, personal stories resonate. When the houselights come up, several people have tears running down faces and keep their arms around each other as they exit the theatre. Seeing this really brings home how powerful live performance can be, and how varied and valid everyone’s experiences and responses are.

That is the value of documentary in this live form: The liveness reminds us in a visceral, flesh-and-blood way that life and human experiences are real and hard. There is something honest and invigorating about watching them with a bunch of other humans who laugh, cry and ask provocative questions in the forum afterwards. It’s like joining a climate march with 170,000 others as opposed to sitting in your bed alone crying as the walruses fall off the cliff in the new David Attenborough series. It just feels good to know that you’re not alone in caring.

As I leave the Hannah Playhouse, I have that powerful feeling of being that much more connected to, and informed about, my local community and the experiences of others in it.

The Keys are in the Margarine is beautiful, important work.


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About dementia and love, relationships, staying the distance and coping

Review by Viv Milsom 04th Oct 2019

The Keys are in the Margarine is a verbatim play which explores the journey of those living with dementia. Playing the parts of real people – patients, husbands, wives, children, caregivers and support workers – the four actors on stage present an engaging, and totally authentic piece of theatre.

Verbatim or documentary theatre involves the use of extensive video interviews with real people, who are all involved in different ways in the issue being explored. To play these real people on stage, the actors study the video footage, so they can re-create each person’s exact voice, gestures and movement. They also use earphones on stage, so they can listen to the voices of the real people as they are playing them. This style of theatre calls for a very different approach from traditional acting, where the actors themselves interpret their roles and develop their characters. In verbatim theatre the opposite is true. The actors must be disciplined to the point where they speak and move exactly as the real people did.

All four actors show an absolute commitment to their work, as they share the stories and experiences of the real people they are representing on stage. Director, Stuart Young uses a simple, stylised setting, recreating the various living rooms where the original interviews took place.  

The actors move seamlessly between their different roles, moving to a different chair and donning a different jersey or jacket to represent each of the people they are playing.

In constructing the play, Dr Susie Lawless, Cindy Diver and Professor Stuart Young have edited the many interviews down to just over an hour, weaving the different stories into a cohesive and powerful whole.

In the early stages of dementia, people are not aware of it themselves.

Ross Johnston, as husband Peter, recounts his wife going missing for 14 hours, while he was hosting a cocktail party. She said that she’d gone shopping, he says, but she had bought nothing.

As neuro psychologist, Bob, Johnston later explains that dementia is a disease which spreads slowly as the neurons in the brain start dying. The memory is the first to go.

Cindy Diver, playing wife Sally, recalls how her husband would ask the same question over and over; how he would lose things and how he would become agitated.

As sisters, Abby and Zoe, Serena Cotton and Diver tell how their mother became paranoid about her Bible, convinced that parts were missing.

Anxiety, paranoia and anger are all part of the Alzheimer’s journey, a journey from which there is no turning back. So how do you tell your husband or father that they are not allowed to drive a car again? How do you cope with the loneliness of losing your lifelong partner when in fact they are still alive? And how do you deal with the guilt of finally having that partner placed in 24/7 care in a specialised dementia unit?

Hilary Norris joins Diver and Cotton to represent three support workers who reassure us that the patients in their care are well respected and looked after until the end.

In New Zealand more than 60,000 people live with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia and this number is expected to triple by 2050. Increasingly dementia is a disease that we simply cannot ignore.

This work is not just about dementia though. It’s also about love and relationships, and staying the distance and coping. Coping with the stress and uncertainty, and the grief of losing loved ones, as their minds slowly disintegrate.

Go and see this piece of theatre if you possibly can. 


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