It’s all very well laughing at what people with dementia come out with sometimes. ‘People with dementia.’ It sounds like splitting hairs but for those who have it, and those with a relative or close friend with it, it can make a difference. They are to be defined as people first and foremost, and, truth be told, ‘people with dementia’ is a way of not using words like ‘disease’, ‘sufferers’ or ‘victims’. Cockamamy, a word apparently meaning nonsensical, or – wait for it – insane, sees Alice (Mary Rutherford) losing her mental faculties yet wanting to remain as fiercely independent as possible.
Even the thought of going into some sort of care facility raises her blood pressure significantly. There’s some justification for thinking this way: in the morning papers prior to press night of this production was a story about residents at a care home for people with dementia. The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Older People found a “horrific catalogue of inhuman and degrading treatment, with many spending their last few months living in appalling circumstances”. Needless to say, there will be lawsuits. As far as this play is concerned (spoiler alert), dear Alice is spared that sort of experience.
Not all is plain sailing, of course: when her granddaughter Rosie (Louise Coulthard) is about to shoot off to catch a flight with boyfriend Cavan (Rowan Polonski), it just so happens to be at a point when Alice needs Rosie’s attention. Something has to give, and through the use of modern technology helps Rosie cope with the ongoing situation – amongst other things, Alice has a panic button – eventually, Rosie stops trying to correct Alice, preferring to go along as best as possible with whatever Alice is saying, however bizarre. This tallies with what people I have come across who have cared for people with dementia say: it is better to focus on kindness than correctness.
The production is, to be blunt, a little sluggish. By the very nature of Alice’s dementia, the pace is not exactly intense, which is fair enough, but the scene changes seem unnecessarily long, given the relative lack of set and costume changes to accompany them. It also seems somewhat contrived to have an underwritten character in Cavan who just so happens to be a medical doctor in training, so is able to rattle off general symptoms of the most common forms of dementia, which in turn just so happen to be the ones Alice would appear to have. How gloriously convenient.
This does not lessen the sheer emotional impact of the play overall, however. The difficulties faced by Alice are multifaceted: one scene starts with a voice on the telephone telling Alice she can’t just ring an emergency patient helpline because she wants to talk to someone. But Alice is a person with dementia – perhaps she didn’t, originally, ring for conversation, and even if she did, that’s indicative of the loneliness that comes with being confined to one’s house. There’s a lot to take in, and as the show ends on a sort of cliff-hanger, I was left wondering, ‘Then what?’ That’s a good place for a production to be – leaving the audience wanting more.
So, while the script needs a little work, the performances are highly compelling. Is Cockamamy cockamamy? My answer is no. A heartfelt piece of theatre, never overly sentimental or melodramatic, this is an important show about an important issue.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Focusing on the experiences of two strong women and a family powerless against disease, this play uses the comedy that arises from tragedy to sensitively portray the struggles families around the world face, with one in six people expected to develop dementia according to The Alzheimer’s Society.
Performance Dates Tuesday 12th June – Saturday 30th June 2018
Tuesday – Saturday, 7:45pm
Running time 80 minutes
Twitter @thinkandhitltd, #cockamamyplay
Writer Louise Coulthard
Director Rebecca Loudon
Producer Shaelee Rooke
Designer Elle Loudon
Rosie – Louise Coulthard
Alice – Mary Rutherford
Cavan – Rowan Polonski
The Hope Theatre
207 Upper Street, London, N1 1RL