Review: Watching Rosie

A tale of confusion for Miriam Margolyes in lockdown


After declaring that Jeremy Corbyn is the victim of an Israeli plot, there may be those who think Miriam Margolyes has nothing worth saying. Rest assured that in Louise Coulthard’s short play about dementia, no opinion expressed by Margolyes’s character Alice is anywhere near as outlandish.

After an online version of Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong, this is Original Theatre’s fourth online play for the Covid era, for which Coulthard has adapted her 2017 Edinburgh Fringe hit Cockamamy. That work was based on the writer’s own grandmother Alice, who suffered from the disease before she died.

This new version made using Zoom was shot largely in Margolyes’s south London home, where the Call The Midwife and Harry Potter star has been living her life of lockdown. In the background we get glimpses of the Margolyes décor, including a poster saying something complimentary about an actress, possibly from her award-winning one-woman show Dickens’ Women which toured the world.

None of this gets in the way of the play. There is no reason why Alice could not have a had a past life as an actress. Michael Fentiman’s production is rather like being the uninvited guest of a Zoom conference. For the most part Margolyes’s round face is the main image while in the corner of the screen sits Rosie (played by Coulthard herself), Alice’s granddaughter who is making one of her regular virtual visits.

Coulthard avoids conveying the more upsetting reaches of identity loss. Rather the play is a reminder of how empathetic contact allows the identity of dementia sufferers to be preserved even as the disease erodes the logic of conversation, often to comedic effect. Alice has a doll which she talks to as if it were a real baby. When Rosie indulges her grandmother by expressing concern for the baby’s welfare, Alice sharply reminds her granddaughter that the doll is only a toy.

As Alice, Margolyes segues between lucidity and confusion with ease, while in the top of the screen Coulthard channels some of the love she felt for her real grandmother with no hint of condescension. But the standout turn in the 15-minute piece is by Amit Shah as Alice’s Tesco delivery man, full of diffident charm as Alice attempts a spot of matchmaking between him and her granddaughter in the corner of the screen.

The stream, a gentle amusing diversion, is free but donations to the charity Dementia UK are encouraged.


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