“…makes the mundane sparkle in an absolute tragic joy…”
We often talk of theatre in terms of tragedy and comedy, but perhaps the most powerful moments are found in the stark contrast between the two. To bring an audience to a place of laughter whilst embroiled in the most desperate of circumstances accentuates the pain and yet inspires a perverse sense of lightness.
Is it the joy of being allowed to feel, of being put in touch with our humanity, of laughing in the face of our frailty? Watching Cockamamy, this is phenomenon that I am experiencing, of laughing in the midst of misery, and realising how awful it is to laugh.
The audience are flies on the wall of a cosy front room in the flat shared by Alice and her granddaughter Rosie. Both Alice’s husband and Rosie’s mum have passed away some time ago, so their lives revolve around each other.
It’s no accident that the play begins with the two ladies having themselves returned from a night at the theatre, where they have been watching Romeo and Juliet. Why, muses Alice, do they have to die at the end? Wouldn’t it be so much nicer if they lived?
‘Because it’s a tragedy, Gran,’ Rosie explains. And so it is. Art imitating life. Later, when Alice finds herself entranced in her own front room by a televised version of the same show, we are keenly reminded that a tragic end is inevitable, and not always simply in art.
The chemistry between Rosie and Alice is charming and the obviously loving relationship incredibly endearing. It is their success in creating such likeable and convincing characters from the very start that enables us to invest so heavily in the painfulness. We witness this happy household begin to crumble under the weight of Alice’s increasing confusion and erratic behaviour as Rosie begins to suspect that her gran is suffering from dementia.
Like a knight in shining armour, Rosie’s new boyfriend Cavan swoops in. A doctor, Irishman, and all round nice guy, he becomes Rosie’s rock as she wrestles between her desire to live her own life and Alice’s growing dependence upon her.
While the performances from all three are outstanding, I also very much appreciated the attention to detail woven across all the design elements of the piece. The set is a very homily and intimate box design, dominated by the settee around which most of the action takes place, and with a particularly useful set of cabinet drawers behind that paint a perfect picture of this reduced family’s life. The costume choices too seem well considered and really help to give a sense of the character’s current situation. The lighting design is at times beautiful and really underpins the unfolding drama.
All these elements combine with the performers themselves to make the mundane sparkle in an absolute tragic joy. Cockamamy means ludicrous or nonsensical, and as Alice is gripped ever tighter by her condition, her life becomes just that. Not only is she confused, but Rosie herself is in a state of confusion as she tries to make sense of the changing world. Their generational hierarchy suffers an imbalance as Rosie the Granddaughter becomes in effect Alice’s own mum, and at times is seen as her daughter (her own mum) while Cavan is easily confused with Alice’s husband Arthur.
Louise Coulthard is utterly enchanting as Rosie, her every moment of worry and frustration keenly portrayed, and Rowan Polonski provides a solid and touching supporting role. But it is Mary Rutherford as Alice who steals the show with a captivating portrayal of a woman at odds with her self, fighting to maintain her independence and chase away the blurred memories that invade her mind.
COCKAMAMY by Louise Coulthard
The Hope Theatre 12 - 30 June 2018 7.45pm
Directed by Rebecca Loudon
Produced by Think and Hit
£15/£12 Tues - Sat only
Reviewer Mike Swain is a professional actor, writer and director from Nottingham. He holds a BA Hons Performing and Media Arts from the University of Derby and creates