The Hope Theatre – until 30 June
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Louise Coulthard’s sensitive and heart-breaking play about dementia and its impact on families will put you through the emotional wringer as you watch a sufferer gradually deteriorate.
When Rosie’s mother died, her grandparents took her in and brought her up. Ten years after the death of her grandfather, Rosie and Alice are still living happily together, although Alice thinks that, being in her mid-twenties, Rosie should be married by now.
When we first see Alice (Mary Rutherford) she is full of life and mischief, dressing glamorously and verbally sparring with Rosie (Louise Coulthard). In fact, she seems to be the most energetic of the pair. The little memory slips and bouts of confusion become more and more obvious to both women; Alice forces Rosie’s new doctor boyfriend Cavan (Rowan Polonski) to discuss symptoms of dementia with her.
The jumps in time between scenes is never specified, creating a gentle and slow atmosphere that throws Alice’s deterioration into sharp focus. Mary Rutherford is astonishing as Alice, portraying the frustration and fear as she realises what is happening to her, and shifting between a confused, petulant little girl and her old self with consummate ease. She never overdoes it, maintaining Alice’s dignity even as she sits dishevelled in her underwear. In Rosie, Louise Coulthard has written a refreshingly normal young woman, and delivers a wonderfully honest performance. She is not a saintly carer, instead her frustration, anger and guilt are never far from the surface, making her tender moments more emotional.
As Rosie and Alice try to find a way to cope and keep Alice in her own home, the evolution of Rosie’s attitude towards Alice’s slips is written with charm as Rosie stops correcting Alice and joins in with her delusions to avoid upsetting her. The final scene is a hammer blow that reminds the audience of what a horrible and devastating illness dementia is, leaving most of the audience a sobbing wreck. Fantastic. A thoughtful and humane play about a disease that will touch us all in one way or another.