Cockamamy, The Hope Theatre Review by Susy Brett
Fresh from an award-winning run at Edinburgh Fringe 2017, writer-actor Louise Coulthard’s hard-hitting new play Cockamamy arrives at the Hope Theatre in Islington.
Based on a true story, Cockamamy tells the story of a young woman, Rosie (Coulthard), and her grandmother, Alice (Mary Rutherford). The pair live together, share stories of life and love together and watch television together.
When Alice starts to become forgetful and confused, Rosie fears for her grandmother’s health – struggling with this painful new reality as best as she, and boyfriend Cavan (Rowan Polonski), can.
Cockamamy is an almost textbook depiction of a woman’s descent into dementia, and how it affects those closest to her. Told in a series of scenes spaced out over months, the progression from intelligent, loving and witty grandmother to a frail, confused elderly person is painfully real.
Such a sensitive subject matter can only work well with talented writers and actors, and fortunately Cockamamy has both in Coulthard. As Rosie, Coulthard is gut-wrenchingly sympathetic as she depicts a full spectrum of emotion: fear, love and the eventual frustration and anger that comes from caring for a loved one with dementia. Standing strong beside her is Rosie’s partner Cavan, played by the instantly likeable Polonski, though the real heart of the play is between grandmother and granddaughter.
However, the main star of the show is Mary Rutherford as Alice. Rutherford is at home as at home portraying a funny and inquisitive grandmother, as she is a mixed up, frail old woman and a lovesick teen in the throes of first love. Her deterioration over the course of the play is striking in both its physicality and honesty. Witnessing this deterioration is utterly heartbreaking.
The set design deserves real credit here, transforming the Hope Theatre’s intimate 50-seater studio into the oddly familiar living room of anyone’s grandmother. Complete with old wallpaper, paintings of boats and birds (where do these even come from?), a broken and discoloured old armchair, one squashy sofa for watching Countdown and an old-fashioned tea set. The content of this play could easily be taking place in one’s grandmother’s front room, and with this amount of attention to detail, it definitely feels like it.
The lighting and sound design really come into their own over the course of the show, perfectly serving scenes depicting Alice’s confusion. A troubled mishmash and nostalgic music and sound bites, coupled with impactful lighting, is a clever way to visually depict that all is not well in Alice’s mind.
When I asked around my friendship group whether anyone would like to accompany me to press night, the answer was a unanimous no. ‘It happened to my parent/grandparent’ was the common explanation I received. This subject matter is one that is distressingly familiar to a generation of people, including myself, which demonstrates a very present need for art to help people understand and come to terms with the guilt and suffering associated with losing a loved one to such tragic circumstances. Cockamamy is the best example I have seen of this. It is powerful in its accuracy and humanity, not just in portraying a disease but portraying how that disease affects family members and their partners. It is a remarkably affecting piece of theatre and one that deserves to be seen by wider audiences.