Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Louise Coulthard: Cockamamy

By | Published on Sunday 10 June 2018

You may have come across actress and writer Louise Coulthard’s close to home play about caring for a grandmother with dementia, as it’s already been on as part of the Camden Fringe, back in 2016, and also had a very successful run at the 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Fortunately, if you missed it, you now have ample chance to take it in at The Hope Theatre this month.

To find out more about the play and what inspired it, I had a quick chat with Louise, ahead of this London run.

CM: Can you start by telling us what the play is about? Whose story does it tell, and where does the narrative take us?
LC: ‘Cockamamy’ is a funny yet heart-breaking play about companionship. I wrote it when I was caring for my grandmother who was living with dementia. It follows Alice, her granddaughter Rosie, and a doctor Cavan. The play is set over two years and follows their lives before dementia, through Alice’s diagnosis and finally her degeneration. It particularly looks at the absurdity that dementia can bring, how it affects their relationships through both laughter and tears.

CM: What themes does the show explore?
LC: It’s really a play about what it is to love and be lost. The value of freedom and the sacrifices we make along the way.

CM: To what extent is the show auto/biographical?
LC: The heart and soul of the play is autobiographical in that it follows the love and companionship of a grandmother and her granddaughter, however, I was always conscious that the play should be an embellishment of my experience rather than simply a duplication of it. That wouldn’t have been fair on my Gran, my family or the audience. In my writing I try not to let the truth get in the way of a good story and so our production is a refined, condensed and dramatic piece based on real events.

CM: What made you want to create a show dealing with this topic?
LC: I became aware that a lot of art and literature at the time was responding to the devastation that this disease brings. As I was living through it, though, I found there were so many joyous moments that Gran and I were sharing and that was the stimulus when I began writing the play in September 2015. I wanted to challenge people’s perception of what dementia is, not suffering, but living, addressing both the tragedy and the comedy. dementia affects so many lives and so I was sure I needed to write something reflecting the lives of ordinary people. I was working in a pub pulling pints at the time and chatting with the locals every day really influenced my work.

CM: Is there an intention with the play to educate people about Alzheimers?
LC: One in six of us will get dementia, and with our ageing population it is important to raise awareness, especially in the younger generations. The educative element isn’t forcibly present in the play however I have included medical references and statistics. I hope that people go away with more of an understanding of how to care with someone with dementia and know that it is alright to ask for help.

CM: It deals with a sensitive topic, obviously, but it’s also funny, isn’t it? How easy was it to get the balance right?
LC: Finding the fine balance between comedy and tragedy is something that I’m really interested in. It came quite naturally when writing ‘Cockamamy’ as a lot of the funny sections were conceived from real experiences I’d shared with Gran. It’s really important to shed the light within the darkness – it’s how my family and I coped.

CM: How does the fact that you’re the writer and one of the performers affect your approach, and that of your director?
LC: I know the material so well, and quite literally owning it brings a great freedom to my performance, however it can also be difficult to separate the two disciplines. I have to find ways of stepping away from the trajectory of the narrative and focus my attention on my characters individual journey rather than the piece as a whole. Rebecca Loudon, our director, is brilliant at challenging the script and my performance of it.

CM: The play has already had runs at the Camden and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals. Has the play changed at all, since the first performances?
LC: It certainly has changed. We previewed ‘Cockamamy’ at the Camden Fringe in 2016 to great acclaim, taking it onto the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017 where we won the Lustrum Award for Outstanding New Play. It’s been a rare luxury to have two years to allow the characters and their stories settle in our minds, and the play is all the richer for it. For this production we’ve assembled a full professional team which has really stretched the show’s potential, collaborating with people from different industries, such as music and film. It’s brought a more original perspective to the piece which is incredibly exciting.

CM: Where do you see the show going from here? Would you like to tour it further?
LC: We’d love to tour it. It’s such a current issue and it strikes a chord. We especially want to bring ‘Cockamamy’ to Cumbria where my Gran lived for all her life and where I grew up. I think it would resonate well with the people there.

CM: Do you have any other projects in the pipeline? What’s coming up next?
LC: I’m developing ‘Cockamamy’ for the screen, and am in the initial stages of writing a new play. I’m also going to be collaborating with Chaskis Theatre on a play this autumn. Being a freelancer means there’s always something to be getting on with!


‘Cockamamy’ is on at The Hope Theatre from 12-30 Jun, see the venue website here for information and to book tickets. |