The Nature of Forgetting

Thu 3rd – Sun 27th August 2017

reviews

Dan Mahoney

at 10:30 on 18th Aug 2017

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I must confess that when I saw I was going to be reviewing a play about dementia, I was not particularly looking forward to the experience. It’s not that I don’t like plays with heavy subject matter and refuse to see anything without a rainbow or a unicorn in it, but dementia can be a topic of such devastating sadness that I was finding it hard to get excited about an hour of emotional turmoil. What a lovely surprise it was then that ‘The Nature of Forgetting’ manages to balance out the necessary gravity of its subject manner with an earnest celebration of the joy of life, and is infused with warmth throughout.

An impressionistic journey through the splintering memories of early onset dementia sufferer Tom, Theatre Re’s production combines elements of physical theatre and mime with a live musical score to create a hugely kinetic performance. The cast, led brilliantly by director and star Guillaume Pigé throw themselves around the stage with a palpable energy, effortlessly precise in their movements, but never letting this precision detract from the raw emotion on display. It’s not just the cast that are mobile either, as the set is constantly being reassembled and reconfigured in front of our eyes to create new environments and stages of Tom’s life. In perhaps the play’s best scene, a static bicycle is used to exhilarating effect, as character and stage interact in a spectacular display of physical acting that crackles with energy.

The ‘narrative’, as far as that word can be used in a show like this, is one of memories decaying and splintering before our eyes. We move through snapshots of this man’s life; schooldays, parties, a wedding; following his life and love as it begins to slip out of reach. Scenes fall apart on stage in front of us and the score distorts and twists as we are presented with the heartbreaking effects of dementia (informed by collaboration with UCL Neuroscience Professor Kate Jeffery). But what stops ‘The Nature of Forgetting’ from simply being the repeated emotional gut punches I feared it would be is its recognition of the joy of life. This is not a depressing requiem for lost memories, but rather a celebration of all that makes a life and why it’s so important. In a way it’s a rage against the dying of the light, but more than that it’s an imploration to cling onto the light with all you’ve got, and to recognise all that it encompasses.

Do memories make up a human being? This often seems to be the central question when talking about dementia. The fear of the destruction of the self is a powerful one, but I think ‘The Nature of Forgetting’ argues there is something more to a life than memory - a fundamental humanity that nothing can take away from you. The show strikes a remarkable balance between the recognition of the sadness of the situation and a celebration of the joy that can be found in life regardless. After witnessing its remarkable crescendo of a finale and the lovely coda that follows, I left the theatre with far more hope in my heart than I expected walking in. A truly beautiful, emotionally charged piece of work.

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Mark Bogod

at 13:07 on 18th Aug 2017

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After seeing Theatre Re's 'The Nature of Forgetting', I was so inspired by the physical theatre on display that I attempted to mime this review, rather than write it. After discovering that physical movement doesn’t carry through the internet, I reluctantly sat down at my laptop, my mind still swimming with the beautiful movement and music that I encountered.

In this show, conceived, directed, and starring Guillaume Pigé, we join Tom on his 55th birthday, struggling with the beginnings of dementia. As he struggles to get dressed, even with the help of his daughter, the audience is taken on a spectacular journey into his mind and memories. These cover scenes from the classroom to the altar - but at the same time, we see Tom's memory slowly slipping away.

The physical skill on display here is reason enough to murder for a ticket. I doubt I was alone in gawping in amazement as every tiniest twitch, every flick of every finger, added something to the story. The cast of four (six when the musicians doubled up) was not only faultless, but moved with perfect grace and emotion. I joined the standing ovation at the end for them. The other outstanding aspect of the performance was the music, as written by Alex Judd. At times melodious, at times discordant, it worked beautifully with the mood of the movement, and with perfect synchronisation. It was a treat to see two live musicians playing a variety of instruments when they could have easily made-do with a recording. These were not the only aspects of the production worth praising, but in this case we are spoiled for choice. Just as an example, Pigé had worked into the movement an ingenious use of props - both adding variety to the physical aspect of the show, but also anchoring the world of Tom's memories.

If this show had a fault, it is that I was somehow not enthralled to the same level throughout the show. There came moments with the repetition of certain motifs, where I felt my attention slip, and not all the scenes were as inventive as one another. The company I feel could have displayed all their talents and achieved the same effect in ten minutes less.

This doesn't change the fact that you should see this show if you can get your hands on a ticket. If you have never seen physical theatre before, there couldn't be a better place to start than this astonishing experience.

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