Writer: Nick Payne
Director: Joe Murphy
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
Is the brain a creative force or a prison? The possibility for the human brain to create is well documented but when damaged it can also lock the mind into a constant loop of frustration.
Nick Payne’s Incognito is as complex as the brains at the centre of his plot. Weaving what initially seem three discordant plots into a coherent whole is a considerable achievement, managing to unify all three only in the final moments without it being obvious what is coming is an even stronger success.
Two of the sub plots are based on historical fact. Thomas Harvey, the pathologist who ‘stole’ Albert Einstein’s brain after his autopsy, and Henry Maison, a pioneer patient who underwent brain surgery to cure his epilepsy are well documented historical characters. Payne combines the two with the tale of (fictional) Clinical Neuropsychologist Martha who is struggling to find her own identity – both professional and personal.
Payne’s script switches from period to period, story to story, swiftly and deftly. We’re forced to work hard to follow who’s who and what the interrelationships are. It’s work that pays off, however, as the layers are slowly revealed and the jigsaw puzzle begins to slot into place.
We’re guided on that revelatory journey by the performances of Alison O’Donnell, Paul Hickey, Amelia Lowdell and Sargon Yelda. Swapping between multiple characters at a heartbeat, they draw distinctive characters who help us navigate the interwoven paths, some tragic others comic.
That complexity of navigation requires an audience to work hard; blink and the scene has shifted to another era, another story but bear with it and the resolution is fulfilling and unexpected.
Joe Murphy’s direction sets the pace fast from the outset but never sacrifices speed for story, utilising cast to drive narrative with no costume changes and minimal props, it’s testament to the power of the writing that the 90, interval free, minutes fly by.
For all the power of the writing and the strength of the performances there’s something missing from Incognito. There are moments of heart-breaking sadness and moments of dark humour but, while you can admire the technical achievement, it’s hard to know exactly what we should take away from the piece. Perhaps that is intentional, the complex nature of the human brain indeed doesn’t always provide an easy answer but, while you will be mulling over Incognito long after the performance, it’s hard to pinpoint why.
Runs until 19 April