Guest reviewer: Kirsty Herrington
Inspired by writer-performer Louise Coulthard’s own experiences with her grandmother, Cockamamy offers a heartfelt, personal and relatable insight into dementia.
Alice (Mary Rutherford) and Rosie (Coulthard), grandmother and granddaughter, are a team; bonded by blood, family and loss following the death of Rosie’s mother and grandfather. They live together, enjoy watching Countdown together and both want what’s best for one another. But then the unthinkable happens, and their close relationship is put to the test when dementia begins to take hold of Alice. As the play progresses she slowly declines, misplacing money, hoarding tinned spam, experiencing flashbacks to the war and hallucinating, even asking if Rosie is her own mother.
Coulthard’s script is incredibly strong, stirring the emotions and providing a realistic insight into how dementia affects not only a person but their family too. There are poignant scenes where Rosie considers putting her grandmother into a care home, and as the pressure on her intensifies it culminates in a harrowing scene that tugs on the heartstrings. But there’s humour in there too, the tone managing to switch effortlessly between heart-breaking and hilarious – there’s one scene, for instance, where Alice can’t quite recall how she knows Juliet and Romeo (not to mention their son, Hamlet), but she hasn’t forgotten a glass of rum she’s been promised by her granddaughter.
Rutherford is exceptional as Alice, sweet and playful as she teases Rosie and meets her granddaughter’s new love interest, Cavan (Rowan Polonski); yet lost and vulnerable as her mind begins to let her down. “Being alone is not all it’s cracked up to be,” Alice tells Rosie early on the play, yet in some ways that’s how she’ll inevitably end up, alone in her own little world. Coulthard puts in an equally strong performance, her character’s guilt at wanting her own life and struggle to juggle her blossoming relationship with looking after her gran all too clear to see. Their relationship is a joy to bear witness to and it’s hard not to sympathise with either character – Alice initially unwilling to believe her own mind is failing her; Rosie struggling to balance her own relationship with looking after her gran. There’s a particular scene between the two of them involving apple pie and custard and highlighting the vulnerability of elderly people that would leave even the most hardened of people reaching for the tissues. Polonski too is impressive, and despite his occupation providing a convenient plot device to help diagnose Alice’s dementia, Cavan’s character offers an initial distraction for Rosie, a chance of happiness which is put to the test as her grandmother declines.
The play is brilliantly directed by Rebecca Loudon, and special mention must also go to the lighting and sound (courtesy of Chris May and Jacob Welsh respectively), which help to reflect Alice’s rapidly declining state of mind. The set, designed by Elle Loudon, is a throwback to a late 1980s living room, complete with a sideboard, oversized lamp and garish wallpaper, and given the intimate surroundings of the Hope Theatre, it feels as though the audience has been invited into Alice’s house. 75 minutes fly by in the blink of an eye, and as the end comes you’re not quite ready to leave this tight-knit little family behind.
My verdict? This beautifully written show is hilarious, heart-warming and painfully realistic; an emotional rollercoaster that will leave you in tears and wanting to hug your own loved ones tight. Don’t forget your tissues.
Cockamamy runs at The Hope Theatre until 30 June 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office.