Cockamamy at the Hope Theatre

A new play about the diagnosis of and living with dementia, Cockamamy explores an intensely personal story from Louise Coulthard. Anthony Walker-Cook reviews this emotional narrative.

The first striking feelings upon stepping into the small space of the Hope Theatre are those of quaintness and intimacy. The music playing overhead is that of an older generation, of crooners, love and the realisation of having escaped the shadow of death from World War Two. In the centre is a couch and, behind it, a drinks cabinet. The walls are salmon pink. Set in this room, Louise Coulthard has written a touching and emotional play based around her own experiences with her grandmother and dementia.

Dementia will affect one in six people. Because of this, Cockamamy seems all the more pressing, bringing into sharp focus the devastating and difficult transition that loved ones can go through. Louise plays Rosie, who lives with her grandmother Alice (played by Mary Rutherford). Cockamamy has a strong script, but the success of the show owes much to Rutherford. With an elderly innocence, the opening scenes have a touching poignancy enabled through Rutherford’s delicate and competent handling of the material. ‘Things were simpler then’ she opines when talking of how she met her partner when he was shopping for a lampshade, or when pouring a drink the recipient observes ‘That’s a large glass’, to which Alice replies ‘Not for long, dear’. Through this combination of innocence and timing, we automatically become endeared towards Rutherford, identifying in both her and the environment the homely and maternal familiarity of our own grandmothers.

Rowan Polonski and Mary Rutherford in Cockamamy. Photograph: Alex Brenner

            It is difficult, then, when scenes transition into each other the music becomes distorted and slowed down to an almost uncomfortable level. The room goes dark except for a blue light on the couch, a reminder that the focus of Cockamamy is on the disruption Alzheimer’s and dementia cause to the family and those spaces that were meant to be comfortable and familiar. As the play continues it lies on Coulthard’s Rosie and her doctor boyfriend Kavan (Rowan Polonski) to care for Alice. As Rutherford’s stares into the darkness of the Hope theatre become more and more vacant we truly begin to feel for her and her family. Coulthard’s brisk northern exterior quickly melts out of a pained adoration for her grandmother, easily indicative of the personal meaning this play has for her.

            By the end, Alice’s comedy has become a tragedy. Knowing Cockamamy represents the true story of a grandmother and granddaughter, with the latter acting in the play itself is difficult, but to consider the wider concern of an ageing population in the UK makes the events of the play unsettling and deeply emotional. More pieces of drama need to tackle the issues of health, ageing and loss with the maturity of Cockamamy to prove that unconditional love is a constant whilst aspects of the person may fade into the darkness.  

4/5

Cockamamy is at the Hope Theatre until the 30th June, 2018.

Feature photograph: Alex Brenner


Anthony Walker-Cook is a PhD candidate at UCL and is the Theatre editor for London Student. Alongside academic commitments he has several reviews forthcoming with major journals, including Notes and Queries, and contributes to other theatre websites. His interests include theatre adaptation, early modern drama and all things eighteenth century. For more information please contact: anthony.walker-cook.17@ucl.ac.uk