Tom Michael Blyth isan actor from Lancashire who has an extensive theatre career, including an appearance in the award-winning play ‘The Father’ in the West End – a storyfocused on the relationship between a daughter and her father with dementia. After seeing the effects of dementia on his own father, and the toll that it took on his family, Tom was inspired to raise money for Dementia UK through what he loves best: Shakespeare’s sonnets.
His website, All The Sonnets, features 85 of Shakespeare’s sonnets read by a range of well-known actorsincluding ClaireSkinner (Outnumbered), Ben Whishaw (Richard II, No Time to Die), Adjoa Andoh (Doctor Who, Invictus), Amanda Drew (Eastenders, Black Mirror), David Morrissey (The Walking Dead) and many others.
In 1997 Tom’s father, Mike, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease when he was 57. Over six years, Mike’s diagnosis changed into one of Lewy body dementia. At the time, little was known about this progressive and challenging type of dementia – even the doctors didn’t know what to expect.
Tom Michael Blythe (pictured left) and father, Mike (pictured right)
What the family soon did learnwas that Mikewas going to need round the clock care. As with some cases of Lewy body dementia, Mike had disturbed sleep and frequentlywoke several times through the night needing assistance.
Apart from the small window of respite provided by a day centre, Tom’s mother was left to single-handedly care for her husband without any other support. “I don’t know how she did it,” says Tom.
“Other than the pain of what was happening to my father, the main issue of it was seeing what it did to the family.”Had Tom’s family had the benefit of a Dementia UK Admiral Nurse, things could have beeneasier.
So, yearslater, when Tom was in the dressing room of the play ‘The Father’,he had the idea for ‘All the Sonnets’.Tom says: “I knew I wanted to get a lot of different actors to do the sonnets, and I also wanted to do something to raise money for dementia care, so the two things kind of came together.”
He continues: “When I looked into the different charities and I saw Dementia UK and the Admiral Nurses, I thought: we could have really done with something like that.”
With the help of his well-known co-stars from the play ‘The Father’, including Kenneth Cranham and Claire Skinner, Tom was able to gain support from his numerous connections in the UK theatre industry, and the project began.
Of his favourite sonnets, Tom says: “One of the ones I recorded, Sonnet 30, was the first I ever read and I loved it! I also love 29, read by KenCranham, and 138, read by James Burton. Really… I’d love to record them all myself!”
All the Sonnetshas raised £1,140 so far, and Tom is ambitious to push it further, to raise more money, and to record more sonnets. “Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets, but we’ve only recorded 85 so far. So, the first step is getting all 154 done, then if possible,I’d like to find a way to market the whole lot as a downloadable album, with the price being a donation to Dementia UK through JustGiving.”
And did Tom’s father love poetry, as much as he does? “Ah, yes, my dad had a fondness for reciting the whole of Albert and The Lion, after a few wines at dinner!” Tom is adamant about the power and importance of poetry: “Poetry, like music, can ease tranquillity into people,” he says.