Louise Coulthard: “Gran’s dementia led to many ludicrous moments”

Louise Coulthard on Cockamamy, her play about friendship, loss and dementia.

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“I was inspired to write Cockamamy while caring for Alice, my grandmother, who had dementia,” writes Louise Coulthard.

“A lot of art and literature responds to the heartache that this disease brings. But living through it, I discovered there were also many joyful moments that Gran and I were sharing. That’s where I began when writing this play.

“Absurdity often brings comedy with it. Gran’s dementia gave birth to so many ludicrous moments. She was always a gracious, well-mannered widow, but became adamant that Steven Gerrard was her new boyfriend.

“A lot of her past was fading away and she had little concern for the future, so I was getting to know a very new lady in this ‘present’. It quickly became clear that I was writing a very funny play.

“This became something of a challenge and the first few drafts of Cockamamy were actually too cloudless.

“Gran passed away when I was halfway through the script. I ended up writing the version of the story that I wanted for her, giving her a loving, dignified end. The one she deserved but didn’t really have. The final few moments of the play were a tribute to the kind, dazzling lady I once knew. In hindsight, I realised that wasn’t authentic, artistically correct or fair to our audience.

“I was working in a pub at the time and always thought of the locals as my target audience. I found chatting to the regulars about their days really influenced my writing. Dementia touches so many lives, so it was essential my writing was aimed at real people, not an artistic elite.

Cockamamy, by Louise Couthard (Image: Alex Brenner, courtesy of Chloe Nelkin PR)
Cockamamy, by Louise Coulthard (Image: Alex Brenner, courtesy of Chloe Nelkin PR)

“Everyone’s experience of dementia is different, so it was very important to show the dark alongside the light. With the help of our brilliant director, Rebecca Loudon, we stripped moments back to the rough reality to tell a story of companionship and what it is to love and be lost.

“We previewed Cockamamy at The Camden Fringe in 2016 to great acclaim. It won the Jubilee Fund from Rose Bruford College, which allowed us to take the play to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2017. We then went on to win the Lustrum Award for Outstanding New Play.

“A run at the Fringe will refine any play. Ours is certainly all the better for it. Performing the piece every day, with 15 minutes to lay out our set, get into character and start the show, means we all know it back to front and inside out.

“It’s a subject matter that appeals to all walks of life, and we’ve been particularly surprised at how many people from a scientific background, including medical professionals and carers, have appreciated Cockamamy. One researcher said it was so refreshing to see an artistic, social approach to something that he looks at under a microscope all day.

“I’m so delighted to bring Cockamamy back to London. The play is set in the living room of Alice’s home, so the intimacy and warmth of The Hope Theatre is perfect. The fact that the theatre is above a pub only adds to the joy.

“Pub theatres, with their bustling zest and warm souls, hold a dear place in my heart. I can’t think of a better place to perform the play. My Gran’s adoration for Steven Gerrard means the noise of the World Cup in the pub downstairs will only add to the atmosphere, I’m sure.

“With our increasingly ageing population, the Alzheimer’s Society predicts that one in six people will develop dementia in old age. It is vital that we gain a better understanding of what dementia is, how to recognise it and what we can do to help.

“Becoming a Dementia Friend is a free, easy and excellent way of doing all these things. It’s a subject that is naturally very close to my heart and so we are thrilled to be in partnership with, and in aid of, the Alzheimer’s Society.”

Cockamamy by Louise Coulthard, plays at The Hope Theatre until 30 June.