BEWLEY’S CAFE THEATRE and VIKING THEATRE 2023
Directed by Liam Halligan
Tom and Trish have celebrated their Silver Wedding Anniversary but what happens when he wakes up with a strange woman beside him and she tells him she’s his wife? Trish has to make a choice, which she does, armed only with humour, music and love.
This play is inspired by Rose’s Dad, Jack, who had Alzheimer’s and couldn’t remember he had cancer.
“He taught us about staying in the present, because that’s where he lived. We had to learn to never ask a question that didn’t have the answer in the room. His intelligence made life a crossword puzzle to be solved. I believe humour is the only way to survive if this topic visits you.“
Who am I without my past? Who am I without my partner? When we go out of our mind, where do we go?
You will laugh, you may cry, but you will find a tender story of the true meaning of love.
Show in a bag is an Artist Development Initiative of Dublin Fringe Festival, Fishamble: The New Play Company and Irish Theatre Institute to resource theatre makers and actors
IRISH INDEPENDENT 6 May 2023 Katy Hayes
Clear Portrait of living and dying with Alzheimer’s
There is a lot of Alzheimer’s in theatre at the moment, what with Deirdre Kinahan’s collaboration with Bryan Murray in the Peacock (An Old Song, Half Forgotten) and this gentle portrait of a man losing his mental grip playing in Bewley’s Cafe Theatre. Take Off Your Cornflakes was first presented in the Dublin Fringe in 2017, created under the Show in a Bag Scheme led by Fishamble.
Rose Henderson and Pat Nolan, both best known as TV actors, have co-written and star in this sad story of a Dublin bus driver diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 53. The play follows his 15 year journey with the condition. Tommy is at first distressed, but as the condition progresses, his awareness lessens and his state becomes simultaneously worse and better. Meanwhile, his wife, Trish, becomes his carer and in many ways the tragedy is worse for her.
The style of storytelling is episodic – lots of short scenes, each with their own clear epiphany or emotional point. The dramas are small: putting keys in shoes by accident; Tommy looking for his Mazda in the car park, forgetting he had replaced it with a Volkswagen.
Liam Halligan directs with a meticulous approach, teasing out the emotions at all points. A video backdrop by Kieran McBride adds a strong visual dimension.
Pat Nolan is a winning Tommy – commanding in his terrible dad jokes (he doesn’t forget these) and conveying occasional frustration in sharp outbursts of anger. Rose Henderson is a soft-hearted, coping Trish.
The tone is low-key without any major twists or turns; once the diagnosis is received, the disease the show continue on their projected path.
The most interesting and challenging idea, that Trish sometimes feels like smothering her husband with a pillow, gets raised timidly but qyickly out back in its box. Trish says “put me down if I get it” then rapidly pulls herself away from this black thought. There is a sense, however, that this black thought might have unlocked a greater dramatic payload.
But the play delivers its ambition well – to paint a clear portrait of what living and dying with Alzheimer’s is like. And if the story feels timid, it is also moving and very real.
IRISH TIMES ONLINE 06 September 2017
Finding the fun in the fog of Alzheimer’s
Experiences with her father inspired actor Rose Henderson to write a play about Alzheimer’s. Her former Fair City colleague, Pat Nolan, was a co-writer and also stars
The best thing about my dad having Alzheimer’s disease was that he couldn’t remember he had cancer.
An engineer who could always fix anything, my dad, Jack Henderson, had started to have a few forgetful moments. I remember him attempting to fix the rearview mirror in the roof of my car and being unable to figure out which direction to turn the screwdriver that was by then upside down.
It was another three years before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and, 10 years later, he developed pancreatic cancer. My mum, Edith, was able to care for him at home until five weeks before he died, in April 2016, in St Michael’s Hospital in Dún Laoghaire.
My mum and dad were one of those couples who still held hands walking down the street. Married 62 years, they had their disagreements as well as their joys but Alzheimer’s was their biggest test. It seemed to us a cruel blow for an intelligent man who was such a gentleman, but it was these qualities which helped everyone who met him to wonder if he had the disease at all.
He always remembered his jokes, and enjoyed them, chuckling long after we had moved on to another topic. The choice was to laugh rather than cry in the face of disaster.
I hope that telling my parents’ story through a new play for the Dublin Fringe Festival, showing their daily reality and demonstrating their courage, will help to remove the stigma and to humanise the disease.
Moments of joy
People with Alzheimer’s are not zombies. In later stages they can withdraw, but there is often a key to ignite their focus and help them find moments of joy. My dad was never a singer, but at a birthday party his friend handed him the words of a song and he sang a solo with tuneful panache, surprising us all.
Take Off Your Cornflakes is my testament to him. Although, my former Fair City colleague, Pat Nolan, and I have created characters and a new story in this Show in a Bag production, there’s a lot of my dad in there. We hope that anyone who has been touched by this disease (which affects one in four families in Ireland) will recognise the journey of these characters, laugh at shared dilemmas and maybe learn a few ways to find relief.
Trish in the play has to make a choice – to survive or succumb to the pressure. She makes this choice armed only with humour, music and love. I believe humour is the only way to survive if this condition visits you.
We have been laughing a lot in rehearsals, learning to dance with Diane Richardson, trying to talk while dancing (we may abandon that), and Liam Halligan, who directs, nudges us gently to explore new ways of moving and staying true to the story which covers a period of 35 years.
I was rarely with my dad 24 hours a day, and was mostly able to enjoy my time with him. For my mum it was much harder, watching her best buddy steadily disconnect from their well-rehearsed repartee. It’s a lonely place, making decisions for both of them, and carers are largely unsupported by the health services (they managed to get an hour and a half of home help).
Kindness of neighbours
Without the kindness of local people, I don’t know how long mum could have kept him at home. The staff of Solo Café in Killiney would keep an eye on him while she did their grocery shopping, refusing to accept his repeated offers of money, and plying him with another coffee if she had not come back. The council even let him off a parking fine once, when he spent three hours searching for his car. How often does that happen!
Neighbours dropped everything when I was onstage in the Tivoli and brought mum to the hospital when he was ill. Their car mechanic, in PK Motors Blackrock, shut up shop, put on a suit, and came to dad’s funeral. Please know these kindnesses make a world of difference to a carer.
It was the little things that broke my mum’s heart, like having to buy her own Christmas present from him. Now, since his death, she finds herself surrounded by lovely friends and family – but alone.
To get this story on stage, Pat Nolan and I have had huge support and encouragement from Fishamble, the Irish Theatre Institute and Fringe Fest who run the Show in a Bag initiative to encourage actors to write and produce a new piece of theatre.
I miss my lovely dad. The writing of this play has been cathartic and enlightening, and I hope when people come, they will laugh, they may cry, but they will find more than just a story of Alzheimer’s, they will find a tender story of the true meaning of love.
The Arts Review – Chris O’Rourke
The Year that was 2017
While many shows focused on size or scale, some of the most memorable productions resulted from solo or duet performances. Take Off Your Cornflakes by Rose Henderson and Pat Nolan, as part of Fishamble’s Show in a Bag, was deeply moving.
Emer O’Kelly – Sunday Independent, Sept 17, 2017
The Fringe: from Rasputin to Alzheimer’s
Take Off Your Cornflakes by Rose Henderson and Pat Nolan, also part of the Show in a Bag initiative at the Fringe Festival, has it all: the initial joking references to losing one’s marbles, the increasing irritation at seeming thoughtlessness, the terror at finding the world alien, the anguish of the dark cloud of irrational suspicion of nameless betrayals, all culminating in a once passionately and deeply loved companion becoming merely a mindless cloud, and for the one who has retreated, what can only be hoped is a painless nirvana of loss.
The two authors play Trish and her taxi-driver husband Tommy, to perfection, directed by Liam Halligan with music by Denis Clohessy.
Fiona Charleton – Sunday Times, September 24, 2017
Good marriages rarely feature in theatre and when they do, tragedy usually lurks just a scene away. In this Show in a Bag production, written and performed by Rose Henderson and Pat Nolan, Trish and Tommy are married 25 years when his Alzheimer’s flips them from living to coping. Such topics require sensitive handling and director Liam Halligan steers a steady path. Tommy’s symptoms start small, such as forgetting the odd word. They laugh it off, since he’s only 54. As the ending is sadly inevitable, the story arc is more emotional than narrative. Henderson and Nolan have such natural chemistry that, like Trish, we are smiling through tears for much of the show.
An acutely observed piece inspired by Henderson’s family experience, this has an authentic dignity which affirms that love and good humour can coexist with heartbreak.
The Arts Review ****
Chris O’Rourke – September 18, 2017
“Take Off Your Cornflakes” by Pat Nolan and Rose Henderson, should come with a warning. At the very least it should stipulate ‘bring your own supply of tissues.’ Between tears when you want to laugh, and laughing when you want to cry, “Take Off Your Cornflakes” can be something of an emotional rollercoaster. This is a story of two people. Flawed, overwhelmed, and in love in sickness and in health, “Take Off Your Cornflakes” follows the experiences of Trish and Tommy, good people in a bad place, as Alzheimer’s takes hold in what is one of the most sensitive, heartfelt, and uplifting shows of the festival.
Reminiscent of the 2001 movie “Iris,” staring Judi Dench, Kate Winslet and Jim Broadbent, “Take Off Your Cornflakes” follows something of the same format and structure, dropping linear narrative and weaving past and present like a rich, luscious layer cake. Busman, and later taxi driver, Tommy, the man with the ready joke always to hand, has been getting forgetful lately. Trish reckons it’s the stress that’s got him into this state. As time passes and Tommy’s condition deteriorates, Trish has to adapt as her relationship shifts from wife to minder, lover to carer. Helpless as her partner becomes her patient, requiring her to have the patience of Job, Trish must face the transformation alone. With family away in San Francisco and Manchester, a son and daughter of the diaspora, Trish is left with phone calls, letters, and Skype calls for moral support. In the end it’s left to Trish to learn to agree, to divert, to distract, to reassure, and reminisce, over and over and over when Tommy needs it. Yet when the brain breaks down, love speaks up. Sometimes in every thing you do, other times in a brief moment of clarity.
Director Liam Halligan does a neat job with a script whose ordinariness conceals some intense depths below. Keeping pace and emotion balanced right on the line, Halligan ensures “Take Off Your Cornflakes” may tipple in places, but it never fully topples into becoming a sentimental tearjerker. Video imagery by Kieran McBride, lighting by Colm Maher and music by Denis Clohesy reinforce Halligan’s sense of the heartbreaking ordinariness of the experience. Pat Nolan is outstanding as the fun, life-loving Tommy, always telling a ridiculous joke, loving his wife and family more than anything, trying to hang on their memory by crosswords or memory games as his mind, and he, disappear. Indeed, Nolan just keeps getting better and better as Tommy gets worse, delivering a beautifully understated, heart wrenching performance. Rose Henderson as Trish, a woman who never complains, hiding her pain, and her needs, behind a forced smile is wonderfully compelling throughout. Clinging to Tommy in every moment, ready to kill him in the next, Henderson’s Trish is deeply moving as the wife who wants her husband back. For an hour. A day. A moment. Throughout, there’s a charm and ease, and an irresistible chemistry between Nolan and Henderson, that is utterly enchanting.
Hats off to A Show in a Bag, brainchild of Fishamble: The New Play Company, Irish Theatre Institute and Dublin Fringe Festival. When new writing all too often means young new writing, supporting a new work like “Take Off Your Cornflakes” as part of the four A Show in a Bag productions in the festival, helps challenge the ageism many feel dominates Irish theatre, especially when it comes to new writing. Hats off, too, to Pat Nolan and Rose Henderson for crafting a work of such sensitivity and relevance, giving voice and immediacy to the experience of those afflicted by Alzheimer’s. When all too often works by older writers are nostalgically looking back, Nolan and Henderson are firmly in the here and now, looking forward.
When it hits, Alzheimer’s is a puzzle that can’t be solved, only lived with, and it takes all those around it down in one shape or form. “Take Off Your Cornflakes” refuses to stay down and reclaims something back from that battle. Refusing to go quietly into that dark night, “Take Off Your Cornflakes” is a heartbreaking joy, full of love, laughter, and the living of every moment. And of jokes so bad you just can’t help laughing. So don’t miss “Take Off Your Cornflakes.” Remember to take your loved one with you, no matter what your age, and don’t forget to ask them to dance.
Michael Moffatt – Irish Mail on Sunday
SHOW OF THE WEEK ****
Tale of dementia gets a heartfelt touch
This latest play on the subject is seen very much from the point of view of Trish, watching her husband Tommy slowly losing his memory as she tries to cope with her own problems while trying to keep a watchful eye on his.
By themselves, those escalating episodes would make for a pretty routine production, but the play, written by the two performers, skilfully keeps the loving relationship central to everything, and the script is enlivened by Tommy’s ability to retain elements of his sense of humour based on word-play and his interest in crosswords; screen projection illustrates forgotten times and places. The ability to remember names and places is vital to taxi driver Tommy.
Rose Henderson as Trish and Pat Nolan as Tommy give very moving performances as a couple clinging to love and affection despite the impossible situation.
Kevin Worrall – Meg.ie – Sept 13, 2017
Take Off Your Cornflakes takes on a complex subject matter. A complicated topic rarely tackled in theatre. Directed by Liam Halligan, this Fishamble production offers an honest and heartfelt portrayal of living with Alzheimer’s.
The couple’s chemistry is beautiful. Portraying a typical Irish couple who have shared a million laughs and a million heartbreaks. Not only does it lend a voice to those suffering with dementia, but it gives a platform for those who have to watch a loved one go through it.
All in all, the message behind the project is very simple. To appreciate one’s past, but to more importantly, live in the present.
2023 Venues included:
BEWLEY’S CAFE THEATRE
2020 Arts Council Funded Tour included:
DROICHEAD ARTS CENTRE
WEXFORD ARTS CENTRE
DELVIN COMMUNITY CENTRE, CO MEATH
ST JOHN’S THEATRE, LISTOWEL
NENAGH ARTS CENTRE
THE COURTHOUSE ARTS CENTRE
2019 tour venues included:
EUROPEAN REMINISCENCE CONFERENCE
MARKETPLACE THEATRE ARMAGH
2018 tour venues included:
RIVERBANK ARTS CENTRE
HAWK’S WELL THEATRE
SOURCE ARTS CENTRE
DROICHEAD ARTS CENTRE
AN TAIN ARTS CENTRE
THE LINEN HALL ARTS CENTRE
VISUAL ARTS CENTRE
OUR LADY’S HOSPICE HAROLD’S CROSS
DUNAMAISE ARTS CENTRE
BIRR VINTAGE ARTS FESTIVAL
ROSCOMMON ARTS CENTRE
THE WHALE THEATRE
SION HILL SCHOOL as part of Living Well with Alzheimer’s HSE Group (Discussion after the show)
IRISH FESTIVAL OF OULU, FINLAND
TOWN HALL THEATRE
RED LINE FESTIVAL at the Civic Theatre