Take Off Your Cornflakes – White Bear Theatre, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writers: Rose Henderson and Pat Nolan

Director: Michael Kingsbury

On the day that the US Government approves a new drug to treat Alzheimer’s, the White Bear Theatre’s new play comes at the perfect time. Heart-breaking and poignantly funny, Take Off Your Cornflakes tells the story of a happy marriage overwhelmed by a cruel disease.

Mark Lockyer plays both Tom and Trish, a husband and wife living in London. Tom’s a bus driver whose biggest secret is that one day he wants to drive the Arsenal team through the city celebrating its winning the Double. Trish seems like a lot of fun: full of dancing and quizzes. It’s only later we realise that her endless enthusiasm for trivia is a way to delay the symptoms of Tom’s illness.

Scenes are short, and some are out of order. Many plays are fragmented now, and many do so for no reason other than postmodern posturing. However, writers Rose Henderson and Pat Nolan’s decision to switch some of the chronology in their play is for a good reason, as the form tries to replicate the gaps in Tom’s memory, as his Alzheimer’s becomes worse.

We see Tom get frustrated in not being able to remember things – he’s taken to writing down dates and places in a notebook – and we also see the frustrations of his wife when Tom forgets important events, or tragically, who she is. Take Off Your Cornflakes could be too difficult to watch if it weren’t for the humour that runs through its 60-minute running time. Tom thinks the old jokes are the best, and they come as welcome relief.

Lockyer has a difficult task, having to swiftly switch scenes as well as characters but he manages the speed with ease, and by looking at individual members of the audience, draws us into this intimate tale, which is sadly only too familiar for many families. Perhaps we don’t get quite all the characters’ complexities – Trish’s patience is extraordinary – but the writers give us enough, and Lockyer sympathetically brings husband and wife to life.

The set – uncredited – consists of a huge quilt that adorns the wall of the White Bear’s upstairs space. Stitched on is a kitchen –oven, radio and vases – that represents the domesticity of the story, and the quilt sweeps down to become the floor, 70s style lino. It’s cosy and warm, which makes Tom’s story even more touching.

A hit in Ireland in 2019, Take Off Your Cornflakes is receiving its UK premiere in the White Bear, and with friendly staff in the theatre and the excellent barmen downstairs it couldn’t open in a better venue.

Runs until 12 June 2021

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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