In Patch of Blue’s adaptation of Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s teen novel Back to Blackbrick, we follow Cosmo as he struggles to come to terms with his grandfather Kevin’s mental decline from Alzheimer’s disease. Cosmo’s reactions chime with a younger audience: amusement at his most comedic confusions (peeing in the dishwasher), anger at how others infantilise ‘the smartest man [he] knows’, and teary frustration at his inexorable decline – particularly the pain when he forgets Cosmo’s name.
From this familial, topical, widely recognised foundation, Back to Blackbrick builds a fantastical structure of adventure and time-travel, as Cosmo meets and assists his 16-year-old granddad in Blackbrick Abbey. Though the piece entertains theatrically, Fitzgerald's plotline doesn’t offer an opportunity for either Cosmo or the audience to reconcile themselves medically with the reality of Alzheimer’s as an incurable, debilitating disease. Cosmo is (perhaps fantastically) able to cure his granddad’s dementia, thus saving him from the Doctor, who appears to be threatening to put Kevin in a home unnecessarily and/or without the family’s consent.
Alzheimer’s has seen a lot of representation in theatre and the arts in recent years, yet all too often these portraits follow patterns of either the inevitable tragedy of decline, or the impossible happy-ending of cure. However, other projects, such as Magic Me's 'Cocktails in Care Homes', aimed at reconfiguring the arts’ relationship with people with dementia, use models of emotional engagement to change the perception of the disease from the purely, and reductively, tragic. (HM)
BACK TO BLACKBRICK, Patch of Blue, Pleasance Courtyard (Cellar), until August 31st. Hearing Loop available. Unfortunately, this venue is not Wheelchair Accessible. Please contact venue for further details.
More on Patch of Blue:
Josh Lacey in The Guardian reviews original novel by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
Info on Magic Me’s ‘Cocktails in Care Homes’ project
The Lion’s Face opera about Alzheimer’s (2010)
Info on forthcoming Magic Me artist residencies in Anchor Care Homes, feat. Punchdrunk, Upswing, Duckie & Lois Weaver