Take Off Your Cornflakes is a one-man show, starring Mark Lockyer as Tom, a man who has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. The play is written by Rose Henderson and Pat Nolan but adapted by Lockyer to take it from an Irish setting to one in working-class London. It is the perfect fringe theatre show, running just over an hour and I am completely hooked the whole way through. The play is non-sequential, with Lockyer switching seamlessly from one scene to another at lightning speed. The mind boggles at how Lockyer is able to deliver the entire show so well. With only a couple of tiny stumbles, Lockyer masterfully leads us through the story, taking us from a time before his diagnosis to the later moments of his life.
Most effectively, Lockyer also takes on the role of Trish, Tom’s wife who is a devoted carer of him throughout his illness. As the illness begins to create cracks in their relationship, he very clearly portrays the mental toll it has on Trish. By portraying their relationship in such a genuinely touching way, the stakes are raised really well. I must admit, I am in floods of tears when Lockyer, as Trish, tells us that, “I’ll miss him. But I miss him when he’s here.” The play is evidently directed extremely well by Michael Kingsbury and I really enjoy the choices he makes to pull off the narrative format of one actor jumping between different moments in time, playing multiple characters. There’s some magic here in the pairing between Kingsbury and Lockyer as while this could all very easily leave an audience confused, we are instead totally on the same page in every moment.
The set is entirely made up of a patchwork quilt, creating the image of a perfect, twee domestic situation. A patchwork image of a bus hangs on the wall (Tom’s job as a bus driver is incredibly important to him) and a stove and oven is sewn into the other. Although perhaps a slightly obvious metaphor for the patchwork-like structure of the play (all mis-matched and disorganised yet fitting together perfectly) it certainly looks striking and fills the space which is otherwise sparsely furnished with a single chair and a short table.
The last word really must go to Lockyer, who gives an astounding performance. His characterisation of Tom becomes increasingly child-like as his mind degenerates, repeating simple phrases with a saccharine smile to his wife. His vocal delivery is impeccable — admittedly, the play is on in a small theatre but even when speaking in hushed tones, we hear real strength in Lockyer’s voice. We invest in these two characters entirely because of Lockyer’s performance and I think the play is a remarkable tracking of the devastating effect of Alzheimer’s on sufferers and the people who love them.
Take Off Your Cornflakes is playing White Bear Theatre until 12th June 2021. For more information and tickets, see White Bear Theatre online.