Having played to sell-out audiences across Ireland in 2019 Rose Henderson and Pat Nolan’s critically-acclaimed play Take Off Your Cornflakes receives its UK premiere at London’s White Bear Theatre from 2-12 June 2021, adapted by and starring Mark Lockyer.
In Lockyer’s one-man version, no longer located in Dublin but set in North London, Take Off Your Cornflakes examines the impact of dementia on a relationship between a married couple, Tom and Trish.
Tom loves a laugh but it’s no joke when he can’t even remember where he’s parked the car… let alone where he’s left the biscuits. Fortunately, his loving wife Trish comes to the rescue… again!
Tom and Trish are a working class couple with no airs or graces. Tom loves the buses and Trish is a mother of two and a housewife. They both love dancing and Tom loves his shed. They are simple, loving people and are devoted to one another. When Tom is diagnosed with early on-set dementia at only 53, life changes dramatically for both husband and wife as they navigate the unpredictable years they have left together.
Lockyer’s moving adaptation of this absurdly normal story, directed by the White Bear Theatre’s artistic director Michael Kingsbury with design by Geraldine Williams, poignantly asks us: How do we keep dancing when the music between us starts to fade?
In conversation with Mary Condon O’Connor, Lockyer explains what impact the play had on him when he first saw it in Ireland: “I was absolutely gripped and wanted to bring it to the UK immediately. At the time, I had a relative with dementia and the whole family was struggling with its consequences.
“Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia are part of many families now. It’s a story that needs to be told. The strength of the play is that it sees both sides of a complex issue with humour and sadness, always delicately balanced.
“When Tom is diagnosed with dementia, the balance of their relationship shifts as Trish becomes a carer. The conflict in Trish between loving her husband and having to witness his deterioration is painful and causes a natural resentment that she is losing Tom to the illness. In my adaptation, I really wanted to highlight Trish’s pain and dilemma. I saw that conflict in my own family. Being a carer to someone you love is visceral and painful. The play’s strength is that it shines a light on those difficult feelings. That’s important and honest. However, the counterbalance is that Tom never loses his sense of humour. He is, for the most part, engaging and very amusing.”
— The Mark Lockyer (@mlastudio2020) May 27, 2021
Humour plays an important role in the telling of Tom and Trish’s story, so how did Lockyer incorporate humour into the play and was it difficult to tell both stories within the format of a one-man show?
“Anyone with experience of dementia in the family will tell you that there is sadness and humour. You have to find the humour because even the most tragic things can be funny. Humour is an important safety valve and it’s crucial to find humour in a play. After all, it is a piece of entertainment. As a writer, it’s about being sensitive to what each moment of the story requires.
‘A chance reading of the play with some friends was a turning point. I was told by my pals that it worked very well and doing it solo actually added something. When two people love each other very much over a number of years, my experience is that they become intertwined. This is true of Tom and Trish. Each knows what the other is thinking. Telepathy, if you will. It comes through familiarity, time, and love. Playing both characters at the same time seemed very natural to me. Two people become one – literally.”
Both Lockyer’s plays Living with The Lights On and Keep on Walking Federico deal with family and family dynamics. The first in relation to his own experiences with bi-polar disorder, the second about the grief of losing a parent.
He adds: “Theatre can be informative and educational in that regard. The family and its dynamics are fascinating. An audience can relate to that because they may see themselves and their own families in the story.
“Dementia is also about family and family dynamics. If not directly, we all know someone who has a relative or friend that is suffering. It’s important we share the difficult things.”
Reviewing the show, The Stage’s Natasha Tripney wrote… “Mark Lockyer is an intense, magnetic presence whose performance holds the whole evening together. Shower him with Gold!”
Searingly funny without a hint of self-pity, this visceral play about a subject that touches us all smashes through the boundaries of what it means to care and how we truly love.
Take Off Your Cornflakes runs from 2-12 June 2021 (Monday to Saturday at 7pm, Saturday matinee at 2pm). Tickets are £16 (£12 concessions).
Mark Lockyer (adaptation/performer). His career spans over three decades and includes leading roles at the National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, Old Vic, Young Vic and Royal Court. Notable roles include Iago in Othello for the EET, Subtle in The Alchemist for the RSC, and Lockyer has just finished playing The Devil in a film of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale with the Halle Orchestra, Manchester conducted by Sir Mark Elder. His hit show Living with The Lights On (recounting his own mental breakdown and bi-polar disorder) sold out at the Young Vic, and along with his second play, Keep on Walking Federico, both shows have toured the UK twice and enjoyed sell-out runs in Helsinki, Barcelona and Madrid. This adaptation of Take Off Your Cornflakes continues Lockyer’s blossoming career as a writer and performer.
Michael Kingsbury (director) Credits include Ying Tong (West Yorkshire Playhouse and transfer to the Ambassadors), In Lambeth, (Southwark Playhouse), States Of Shock (BAC Main House), The Divided Laing (Arcola) and Verity Bargate Award-winning This Other Eden (Soho Theatre). His writing work includes Seduced (Finborough Theatre) and Contact.Com (Park 200)