Director: Guillaume Pigé
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
Tom has early onset dementia. It’s his birthday and his daughter struggles to get him in a jacket and tie for the arrival of his friends and family. Tom can’t remember which jacket she told him to put on two minutes ago, but he can remember plenty of other things – his school days, his wedding, parties and wild bike rides.
Theatre Re have worked with a neuroscientist at UCL to explore the nature of forgetting and the patchwork of memories that inhabit the brains of those living with dementia. They have talked to older members of the community about what they remember, what really counts when things start to slip away, and they have woven these thoughts and ideas into a piece of physical theatre that tells Tom’s story.
On a stage crammed with props – rails of clothes, school desks and chairs – Theatre Re re-create Tom’s memories in a series of dream-like scenes. To an original soundtrack of live music by Alex Judd, the six performers create all the people who Tom remembers – his mother, his childhood sweetheart and later wife, his school friend Mike and his rather terrifying teacher – through mime and dance. What little spoken word exists is rather drowned out by the music, which does make one wonder if it’s even necessary, but at times the story is hard to follow, so perhaps some pointers would make things flow a little better.
The physical performances and flawless and slick. The cast sweep furniture and props around the stage in perfect choreographic movements, a classroom appears out of nowhere – then a car, a bar. A breathless bike ride scene conjures wind and speed and is full of joyful exuberance. But Theatre Re know when they’ve made something special, and rather than enjoying the moment and letting it go, they overplay things to the point where the magic begins to be lost. It all becomes rather self- indulgent. The thing is, there’s not a lot of story here – basically; boy meets girl, boy marries girl, boy and girl have baby, who later, and rather depressingly, becomes carer. Tom, it seems, has little excitement in life to remember. Long pauses, constant repetition, and slow-motion action, seemingly designed to create coherence and dramatic tension, only serve to slow the pace of the narrative even more.
The problem with The Nature of Forgetting is that it suffers from extremely highly polished style over very little substance. Katherine Graham’s lighting design creates some extraordinary visuals, there’s never a step out of place, but the show lacks the very things that it sets out to celebrate – warmth and humanity.
Runs until 13 June 2018