How did lockdown make you feel? Confused? Scared? So disorientated that you weren’t sure what day of the week it was? In this short new online play by Louise Coulthard, adapted from her 2017 debut drama Cockamamy and reworked for our current strange times, the stress, isolation and uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis is coupled with the challenges faced by an elderly woman with dementia. The result, directed with deft lightness by Michael Fentiman, is delicately insightful and warmly compassionate. When your everyday reality is bewildering, how do you begin to cope with the so-called new normal?
The solution, in Coulthard’s moving miniature, is both simple and quietly profound: love. Miriam Margolyes is wonderful as Alice – funny, mischievous, desolate, frightened – and Coulthard herself is her granddaughter Rosie, anxiously checking in via video calling. But Alice, watching Rosie through a screen and puzzling over how she has somehow managed to get “inside the telly,” is just as concerned for Rosie’s welfare as Rosie is for Alice’s. Alice worries that, as a career-focused singleton, Rose will never find the happiness that Alice did with her beloved late husband – and that the kind of loneliness that torments Alice herself lurks in Rosie’s future.
But for all its deep, sorrowful shadows, the playlet has a gentle loveliness. The tenderness between the two women is gorgeous, and alongside Alice’s muddle and memories, Margolyes offers a teasing playfulness. She cradles a doll as if it’s a baby, but scoffs when Rosie assumes she actually believes it’s a real, live infant. And when a supermarket deliveryman (Amit Shah) arrives on her doorstep, she spies an opportunity to play matchmaker. She quickly establishes, by dint of some shamelessly direct questioning, that the friendly, open-faced young man is neither spoken for nor gay. And then, thrusting her device under his nose, she dragoons him into setting up a tentative date with Rosie, who is both mortified and discreetly thrilled.
The writing highlights how crisis exposes what’s most important, and its exploration of the different ways we communicate – by looking into each other’s eyes, by listening, by sharing our stories – is particularly poignant at a time when the virus has turned touch into a sense largely forbidden or dangerous. Fentiman’s direction is deftly modulated and sprinkled with eloquent details: Alice’s wonky handling of the webcam, which swoops from extreme close-up to a view of her ankles; the mountain of stockpiled toilet rolls by the front door. And Barnaby Race’s music swathes the ordinariness of it all it in a veil of sweet and transcendent melody. It’s a fleeting piece, but its truthful simplicity lingers like the salty tang of a tear.
Streaming at originaltheatreonline.com until 30 September.