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DramaFeaturedLondonReview

The Nature of Forgetting – London International Mime Festival – Shoreditch Town Hall

Reviewer: Jane Darcy

Director: Guillaume Pigé

You might not imagine that a mime show about the experience of dementia could be anything other than bleak. But Theatre Re’s The Nature of Forgetting, part of the London International Mime Festival, is vitally energetic, pacy and often very funny. The concept itself is brilliant. The show is framed by a short scene in which Tom, living with young onset dementia, is being patiently coached by his daughter Sophie into getting dressed for a family birthday party. She repeats clear instructions before she leaves – his jacket is the one hanging on the end of the rail, his red tie tucked into a pocket. Left alone, these instructions dissolve. He can’t find the tie and when he reaches instead for a red dress, we recognise this as an unmoored fragment of memory.

The clothes themselves are imbued with older memories and the action now spins into a constantly changing series of scenes, fragments of half remembered parts of his past. Tom is often a school boy – those early memories being the strongest. The ensemble work with fellow performers is a delight. Louise Wilcox is compelling as his daughter Sophie and the school girl Isabella, later his wife. Calum Littley is a completely convincing adolescent school boy Mike, a loyal friend to Tom in adult life. Eygló Belafonte is both a mischievous school girl and Tom’s reassuring mother. Guillaume Pigé, who conceived and directs the show, is superb as Tom, eagerly joining in the frenzied action, then looking lost when memories melt away or metamorphose into others.

The set is simple: two rails of clothes plus a number of school desks, which are forever being whirled around and set elsewhere – the rapid, sometimes confusing movement giving an insight into Tom’s feelings of disorientation. This is also mirrored by the lighting, designed by Katherine Graham, kept deliberately low.

There is wonderful music and sound design performed by Alex Judd, the composer, and Nathan Gregory. Amplified percussion, keyboard and violin create a mysterious sound world. When Tom starts losing the thread of a particular memory, the sound distorts. It’s a if someone is scrolling through the stations on a pre-digital radio.

There are some terrific set pieces, memorably when the adolescent Tom, hurtles along on a bicycle, first alone and then with Isabella, the embodiment of youthful freedom. Some scenes are harder to interpret, but we are experiencing what Tom experiences as he tries to knit a coherent narrative from permanently unravelled threads. The least successful part is a series of traumatic memories of a car crash. It’s troubling because it inadvertently links Tom’s subsequent memory loss to trauma, which surely cannot be intended.

The Nature of Forgetting is a powerful and playful reminder that older people were young once, in a way no other medium can capture.

Runs until 22 January 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Exuberant, life-enhancing show

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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