Cockamamy review at Summerhall, Edinburgh – ‘tenderness and tragedy’

Louise Coulthard and Mary Rutherford in Cockamamy. Louise Coulthard and Mary Rutherford in Cockamamy.

Looking at the ludicrous as well as the bleaker aspects of dementia, Cockamamy is a warm, deeply personal show peppered with black humour.

First performed at London’s Lion and Unicorn Theatre in 2016, the play is inspired by writer Louise Coulthard’s grandmother, who developed the disease late in life. Coulthard’s script – and her performance as granddaughter-turned-carer Rosie – is sharply observant, filled with as much tenderness as tragedy.

Mary Rutherford is excellent as the elderly Alice, her sprightly movements becoming furtive and hesitant as her condition deteriorates, her humour and intelligence always shining through. A scene in which she comforts an overwhelmed Rosie, unaware that she is herself the cause of her granddaughter’s distress, is stingingly poignant.

Director Rebecca Loudon takes time to establish a sense of normality at the outset, then deconstructs it with confident, if occasionally abstract, strokes. Hallucinations, overlapping music, and Chris May’s pulsing red and green lights pound some of the subtlety out of later scenes depicting Alice’s confusion.

The naturalistic set by Ellie Loudon situates a living room full of chintzy furniture in the empty expanse of Summerhall’s Upper Church space, an island of familiarity which performers and audience alike approach from a distance.

Mary Rutherford’s compelling performance grounds this sensitive but unsentimental portrayal of decline