‘I had to find the comedy in my tragedy’: Interview with Louise Coulthard

After sell-out runs at the Camden Fringe and Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, Cockamamy will open at the Hope Theatre on the 12th June. A new play about living with alzheimers, actress and writer Louise Coulthard spoke with Anthony Walker-Cook about how the show finds comedy in personal experience.  

AWC: The play is based on your own time caring for your grandmother who suffered from dementia – why did you decide to dramatise an event so personal?
LC: At the time I was seeing a lot of art and reading a lot of literature about dementia, but it wasn’t striking a chord with me. It was addressing the devastation the disease brought but not the joy that I had experienced alongside the heartbreak. I wanted to change people’s perception of what dementia is: not suffering but living. I scribbled my thoughts, feelings and experiences down on the back of a receipt one day and seemed to have the outline for a play. I decided to give it a go.

Though personal, dementia is an ever-increasing problem with an aging population, but in what ways is Cockamamy a show for all ages?

One in six of us will get dementia so I aimed to encourage awareness in my own generation (people in their 20s). Cockamamy revolves around the characters of Alice and her granddaughter Rosie who are both lost in their own way. Their story spans generations and with the theme of family at its core. It’s a very universal piece. We all know what it is to love and be lost and for that reason Cockamamy seems to appeal to people across the board.

Could you comment on the comedic elements of the show – are they used as a method of deflation or do they act more as a heightening tool?

I’m really interested in how fine the line between comedy and tragedy is, and that’s something I like to play with in my work. The comedy throughout Cockamamy is real. It comes from truth and is never used as a method of deflation. It sheds light within the darkness. I think it’s important to do that. Certainly in my own experience, that’s how we get along in life. I had to find the comedy in my tragedy, else I wouldn’t have been able to carry on. My Gran and I had so many laughs whilst she had dementia and that’s something an audience can share.

The show has had successful runs at the Camden and Edinburgh Fringes – has it changed much over the different productions?

It’s been two years since our first production and both the play and its characters have benefitted from that time to stew and settle in our minds. The text itself has barely changed but with a 15 minute ‘get in’ and performing daily at the Edinburgh Fringe means we now all know the show inside out and back to front. I think that has helped with everyone’s understanding of the piece. The biggest and most exciting change is that now we have a full professional team who are dedicated to making this show the best it can be, stretching it’s potential.

Was the show always fully scripted or did you improvise or add material as the show progressed?

The play was fully scripted but as I’ve been present throughout the entire rehearsal process things have been open to discussion and we’ve played a lot with the text. In this production we have developed the character of Cavan (a doctor who finds himself helping both Alice and Rosie) and that’s been informed a lot by Rowan Polanski, who plays him brilliantly.

What can you tell us about your character, Rosie?
Rosie is Alice’s granddaughter. She’s an art graduate who is wonderfully talented but crippled with self-doubt and struggles to find the bravery to risk following her dream. I thought it would be interesting to observe how different people feel lost at different points in their life. We see her tackle her problems as she embarks on her adult life and she grows immensely throughout the play.

Could you comment on Mary Ruthford’s Alice at all?

It’s sensational. I had heard of Mary’s reputation as a wonderful actress before but seeing how she has negotiated this part, with such a huge emotional and physical arc from beginning to end, has been rather inspiring. It’s a real honour to share the stage and learn from her. As one reviewer said, she is ‘a masterclass in Acting’.

If you had to describe Cockamamy in one word what would it be?

Spirit.

If Cockamamy is trying to pose one question to the audience, what is it? And what is the answer?

How can I get through this?
Love, laugh and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

What was the best thing you saw in the past year on the stage?

I saw Absolute Hell at the National Theatre and thought it was incredible. I love it when theatre does things that Netflix can’t and the play threw its audience into a world that was so imaginative and alive. There were stunning performances throughout, especially from Kate Fleetwood and Sinead Matthews, both whom I’ve admired for years. Catch it while you can!

Is there anything you wish you had seen?

The Jungle at the Young Vic. I think the work they program there is brilliant and that piece sounds particularly special. I’m hoping to catch it at the West End when it transfers.

Finally, why should audiences come and see Cockamamy?
Cockamamy has been created, crafted and self-funded by a team of young professionals. It runs on passion and belief. This is not commercial theatre. A lot of love, vulnerability and spirit has gone into this show, not to mention the risk. I think that makes it something very exciting to experience.

London Student wants to thank Louise for taking the time to answer our questions. Cockamamy will play at the Hope Theatre between 12th and 30th June.

Feature Image Credit: 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