The Nature of Forgetting – Shoreditch Town Hall, London

Concept and Director: Guillaume Pige

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

The memories of our lives are really just our favourite stories, fragments and disparate experience repackaged, reinterpreted and infused with retrospective meaning. Humans are storytellers, and in order to feel that we have purpose, that the things we have done were connected, our minds weave a narrative from this series of random occurrences. But what happens when your memory begins to fail and is no longer able to control this imagined sequence of events.

Theatre Re’s show The Nature of Forgetting, previously performed at the 2017 London Mime Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe, presents a surprisingly hopeful and life-affirming story of a man with early-onset dementia. On his 55thbirthday, Tom is distracted from dressing for his party by the continual intrusion of scenes from his early life. Becoming happily lost in a better time, Tom once again faces the joys of a youth edged with tragedy.

The most remarkable aspect of Theatre Re’s show, conceived, directed by and starring Guillaume Pigé, is the impressive understanding of the nature of memory and ability to present its complexity in a touching story about the fullness of one man’s life. Working closely with a neuroscientist at University College London, the show wears its academic credentials lightly but still feels like a realistic picture of dementia.

As well as revelling in the remembrances of his school days which dominate his recollections, there are several moments when Tom is abruptly ejected from his reverie and must force his way back to a particular occasion. At other times, we’re shown how empty memory can be as Tom re-enacts scenes we’ve seen before but without the other characters, emphasising his loneliness, but best of all are the fragments of scenes we see in circular construction, repeated again and again in differing levels of detail, and sometimes crashing into one another as Tom’s mind is unable to cope with the confusing flood of sensations.

Yet, there is a charming feeling of lightness to much of the production with a comedy bicycling scene involving his childhood sweetheart and best friend that represents a contented carefree moment. There’s lots of richly layered detail throughout The Nature of Forgetting which brings Tom’s memories of small moments to life particularly vividly whether at the Tuck Shop window as the children push each other aside, or in the darker moments as he tries to rewrite his recollection of a crucial point once been given an impression of what really happened.

Central to the creation of tone and atmosphere is Alex Judd’s music which does so much to ease the audience’s transition between the present day and the various years Tom revisits. The painful lapse into his dementia has a Hitchcockian feel with lots of jagged elongated sounds that heighten the tension before relaxing into the lighter, fluid composition of the happier memories, supported by Katherine Graham’s lighting design which offers a warm romanticism to much of the show with key details picked out in stark white light.

With very little audible dialogue, the four-strong cast – Louise Wilcox, EyglóBelafonte, Matthew Austin and Pigé- represent a multitude of characters and time periods extremely effectively, while swiftly removing furniture and changing clothes to maintain the show’s pace. As Tom, Pigéis convincing as both the disorientated and distracted 55-year old whose engagement with reality always feels rather muffled but also brings a sprightly energy to the various representations of his younger self. As his ghosts start to overwhelm him and he loses control of the narrative, Pigémakes this all rather pitiable while still appreciating the good life he’s had.

There are a few moments in this 75-minute show where the dramatic pauses are a little over-egged, or scenes where the only obvious purpose is to allow cast members to change costume which slightly pucker an otherwise slick production. But as a representation of the distorting effect of memory and the real value of a life, The Nature of Forgetting is a show to remember.

Runs until 28 April 2018 | Image: Danilo Moroni


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