The writer and actress spoke to Love London Love Culture about her play Cockamamy, playing at the Hope Theatre from the 12th June. 

Louise Coulthard Headshot

Could you tell me a bit more about what Cockamamy is all about? Cockamamy is a dreadfully funny and heartbreaking tale of companionship. I wrote it whilst caring for Alice, my Gran, who was living with dementia. The disease simultaneously ripped my Gran and I apart, and fused us together. Things became bizarre and the play looks at how this absurdity can affect a relationship, through both laughter and tears.

We previewed Cockamamy at the Camden Fringe in 2016 to great acclaim, winning the Jubilee Fund to transfer to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017 where we won the Lustrum Award for Outstanding New Play.

Above all it’s a down to earth story about family and what it is to love and be lost.

It’s a deeply personal play for you – when did you decide that you wanted to write the play? What was the motivation? It struck me that a lot of art and literature at the time was responding to the devastation that this disease brings, however living through it I discovered there were so many wonderfully joyous moments that Gran and I were sharing. That’s where I began when writing the play in September 2015. Dementia affects so many lives and so I was particularly motivated to write something for ordinary, real people. I was working in a pub pulling pints at the time and chatting with the locals every day (unbeknownst to them) really influenced my work. Mary Rutherford stars in the play as Alice and she is mesmerising. Mary and I have been friends for many years and even lived together for a short while, so we share quite a special connection. It’s a deeply personal play on so many levels.

Aside from your own personal experience – did you do a lot of research into dementia and the impact it has? Yes I did. I had to. It’s a very sensitive subject matter and I’d be doing the audience such a disservice if I didn’t have my facts straight. Although Cockamamy is a personal tale the play draws on a lot of stories I’d heard from elsewhere. I spent a lot of time in the care home with my Gran and saw how dementia can affect so many people is different ways. The staff, the patients, their families, I wanted to address as many aspects of the disease as I could. There is a scene where we talk about facts and statistics, these are all drawn from findings from The Alzheimer’s Society. I have also become a Dementia Champion to enrich my knowledge of the disease. Being a Dementia Champion is part of the Dementia Friend initiative set up by the Alzheimer’s Society and is a free, easy way of learning more about Dementia, how it affects those in our communities and what we can do to help.

Do you think that there is enough help in society and from the government for those suffering from dementia? I think things are inevitably getting better but we still have a long way to go with our understanding of what dementia is and what we can do in society to help.

Even the language we use is important. The Alzheimer’s Society are really trying to dissuade the thought that people living with dementia are suffering from it. Suffering is an inactive word. It’s passive. It makes us think that it’s a futile existence, whereas the truth of the matter is people who have dementia can lead an ordinary life. It is possible to live well with dementia.

However, it is a degenerative disease and things do get worse. With our ageing population 1 in 6 people will get dementia and it’s vitally important we gain a better awareness and perception of the subject.

The government is funding research into dementia, as are countless universities and charities like Alzheimer’s Research UK. This work is incredible and undoubtedly benefitting our population.

That said, the average cost of a secure room in a care home in London is £950 per week. That’s £49,400 per year. This can be a devastating strain on people living with dementia and their loved ones. I know we live in hard times but I can’t help but feel outraged when I think of the emotional and financial cost this puts on patients and their families. You can calculate the residential care cost for your area by visiting payingforcare.org.

How did you feel as you were writing the play? Purged. At first it poured out of me. Caring for and loving someone with dementia fills you with such an array of emotions and as I was sat in a pub one day I scribbled these thoughts and things down on the back of a receipt. I soon realised that I had the outline for a play. My Gran died as I was half way through writing the play and thats when it got really hard. It became more personal, affecting my story telling as I began to let grief out onto the page. It’s so hard when someone who you have already lost dies. I felt a mixture of relief, shame, regret, love and gut-wrenching heart ache. I subsequently began writing the story that I had wanted for my Gran. A dignified end where she was strong and beautiful. This wasn’t really true and certainly wasn’t an accurate depiction of the nature of the disease. Our brilliant director, Rebecca Loudon worked with me to strip the play back and the end result is all the better for it.

What would you say the main message of the play is? To live for today and know that even in the darkest of times, there is light and love to be found.

What would you like for audiences to take away from Cockamamy? A fired brain, sore ribs, damp hanky and a full heart…fingers crossed!

Cockamamy will play at The Hope Theatre from the 12th to the 30th June. For more information visit: http://www.thehopetheatre.com/productions/cockamamy/

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