Where to begin to describe this play by renowned playwright Kaite O’Reilly? I’ll start by making up a word: ‘uncosy’ came up repeatedly in my mind with an ill-at-ease feeling delivered with unremitting pace throughout this play.
Rose is the matriarch of this family. She is an older woman confronted with the prospect of illness and a gradual demise, and she wishes to avoid this by choosing a form of suicide as a way out. Her three warring daughters have other ideas and many opinions are offered; Rose’s daughters, her precocious granddaughter and even the unusual medical miracle of a woman taking refuge in the garden. But Rose forces them all to confront and comment on her plans, whether they want to or not.
‘Cosy’ cleverly shines a light on three generations of women as they share the joys and humiliations of getting older and discuss their very different attitudes toward youth, ageing and death.
The set is minimalist and sparse. Viewers should not get distracted, but should focus on the meat and bones of this play: talking about death openly with your (dysfunctional) family. Three generations of women discuss the most prevalent taboos in our society today: death, dying, suicide, chronic progressive illness, assisted suicide and feeling tired of life. Many people would rather cross the street than awkwardly speak to someone they know who is facing death or a terminal illness.
The fact that this play is set in Rose’s home does not discourage O’Reilly from letting medical and social care penetrate deeply into this private sphere – intravenous drips and drip stands, nursing-home chairs and a visiting consultant geriatric psychiatrist form part of this unhomely set.
During set changes, haunting music accompanies the actors moving the chairs to different positions, perhaps a play on the ultimate futility of our lives: we are born, move things from A to B and back to A on a daily basis for no clear reason, and then we die. There are several moments in the play when members of the all-female cast question their contribution to life and what the point of it all was.
Directed by Phillip Zarilli, the founding artistic director of the Llanarth Group, ‘Cosy’ is also supported by Unlimited, a three-year commissioning and support programme which aims to embed work by disabled artists in the UK cultural sector, and shift perceptions of disabled people.
Sara Beer gives one of the stand-out performances in this play, with her witty, funny and astutely observed thoughts on modern medicine, life, death, attitudes towards disabled people and also assisted suicide.
‘Cosy’ dealt with the big ethical questions our society will face in future in a surprisingly balanced way. This balance is achieved by witnessing debates between people with very different opinions: they argue and argue, but this is portrayed in an informed way.
Advance care planning, advance decisions, do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation decisions (and tattoos) all get pitched in such a way that a medical professional like myself could identify with this societal critique – and not cringe, as so often happens when fiction tries to imitate medical reality. I nodded a lot during the play, mainly in recognition of what I have seen and heard in hospital, community and hospice medicine over the last 16 years. The fact that there are multiple complex back stories accompanying each character is for me not distracting, but represents day-to-day reality. There are times in clinical practice when I cannot keep up with the warren of complexity that accompanies a patient’s family and proxy.
I have no hesitation in recommending this play to my medical and non-medical friends.
More information about the play, including how to buy tickets, is available on the Cosy the Play website.