DramaReviewSouth West

The Nature of Forgetting – Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol

Director: Guillaume Pigé

Composer: Alex Judd

Devised by Theatre Re

Reviewer: Leah Tozer

Memory is a cruel mistress: meticulous and muscular, ephemeral and fractured and fragile, it’s all too easy to forget how crucial memory is to character; after all, what – or who – is left when memories are forgotten? Theatre Re’s thoughtful and affecting The Nature of Forgetting is a free fall into the forgotten that captures the complexities of memory through gorgeously nostalgic movement, mime, and accompanying music.

A devised work that delves feet first into the devastating effects of dementia on 55-year-old Tom, it’s a work that’s sumptuous in its simplicities. Malik Ibheis’s minimalist set, props, and costumes use only a central platform, four writing desks, and two packed, moving clothing racks to transform Tom’s muted present into his cacophonous past, with an eclectic, electric live score from Alex Judd that complements the chaos with discord and the calm with a dreamlike depth. The performance is grounded in physical theatre, with delicate and deliciously playful pas de deux from Guillaume Pigé’s Tom and his spirited girlfriend Louise Wilcox, a beautifully bittersweet bicycle ride through youthful wonder and adolescent yearning, and a wild wedding dance with Matthew Austin’s funny and forgetful mate, Mike, and Eygló Belafonte’s fussing but footloose mother.

The impact of the piece isn’t immediate, but nor is dementia: from the framing device of Tom’s daughter, Sophie, dressing him, we free-fall into fragments of memories where movements are repetitive, images are forced into the picture frame Tom wants them to fit – with the support of Katherine Graham’s gorgeously evocative lighting – and voices are muted. Though wonderfully lyrical, the piece often feels like it’s missing more time in the present, where the impact could be felt in real time with Tom’s relatives and loved ones. Pigé’s portrayal of Tom’s frustration and fright is heartfelt and truthful, but the affliction is more than physical, and the effects are felt by everyone.

It feels its most effective and nostalgic in the final moments, as Tom, free for a moment from the frantic physicality of his memories, finally finds – and voices – the name he’d forgotten: ‘Sophie’. Playful and powerful, The Nature of Forgetting is one not to be forgotten.

Reviewed on Friday 8 June | Image: Danilo Moroni

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Beautifully bittersweet

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