Take Off Your Cornflakes
White Bear Theatre
Cast: Mark Lockyer
Writers: Rose Henderson and Pat Nolan (adapted by Mark Lockyer)
Director: Michael Kingsbury
Designer: Geraldine Williams
Dates of run: June 2-12
Also showing July 6-9 at St Margaret’s House, Bethnal Green.
Running time: 65 minutes
Feel good happy endings and the right kind of normality are what many of us crave now the dreaded third wave of the pandemic has begun.
But the bravest theatres, which are among the venues cautiously reopening, know that what we really need is an honest exploration of difficult reality.
They must also cope with their own realities of strained financing and social distancing that mean casts of one are de rigueur.
Mark Lockyer, a veteran of the RSC and much else besides, has taken Rose Henderson and Pat Nolan’s two-hander about love and dementia in Ireland and turned it into a one-man show set in London.
As Lockyer puts it, it’s an “absurdly normal” love story and it admits the appalling truth that all love stories, not just the high romance of Romeo and Juliet, are essentially tragic: they end in loss and when Alzheimer’s strikes, the cruelty is exaggerated because a once charismatic personality disintegrates. In turn, the patient may no longer even recognise a once adored partner.
After months of being deprived of collective experiences, Take Off Your Cornflakes is an unvarnished, quintessentially theatrical sharing of the drama of our own humanity, set against the warm homeliness of Geraldine Williams’ patchwork set.
Lockyer’s talent is to deliver convincingly and without any mockery the ordinariness and specialness of Tom, a 53 year-old bus driver diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and Trish, the patient wife who struggles with her dream of their young love on a honeymoon beach and the bed-wetting dotage that takes its place.
While eschewing parody, Lockyer conveys the femininity of Trish, with her “patient voice” and the disempowerment of Tom as the driving licence central to his sense of self-worth is taken away.
Through a tour de force feat of memory Tom could never accomplish, every stage of the deterioration is documented – from the disbelief of diagnosis to the aggressive paranoia of drugs’ side effects and to respite care, not for Tom, but for his long-suffering wife.
It would be unbearable but for humour: the sad humour of soap mistaken for cheese and biscuits placed in the airing cupboard; the wearying repetition that would make you cry if you didn’t laugh and the cringe-worthy, old-ones-are-the-best jokes.
It conveys the very normalness of Trish and Tom and it gives us the collective laughter that has been absent in lockdown, even if it is from behind the masks that social distancing demands.
Barbara Lewis © 2021.