Tuesday 6th March 2018 at West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Theatre Re’s The Nature of Forgetting explores memory through the lens of Tom, who is living with Early Onset Dementia. Conceived and directed by Guillaume Pigé and devised by the company, it’s a piece which seeks an emotional response through montages and tableaux of the life Tom has lived. At times the piece comes together so well visually that it takes the form of living, breathing art and incorporates physicality which offers moments close to ballet and contemporary dance as well as mime. Composer Alex Judd’s transitional musical accompaniment is deeply ingrained in the performance as much of the production is without dialogue, focusing instead on the physical merry-go-round of a man chasing memories while they flicker and fade around him. By far the greatest strength of The Nature of Forgetting is the brilliant sharpness of the physicality on display as the small company fling themselves and objects about the stage with thoroughly impressive synchronisation – more than once the sequences could have resulted in a stopped show had a cue been missed, but this is a beautifully well produced piece which inspires great respect for its ambitious vision and accomplishments.Guillaume Pigé also provides our protagonist and it is of no wonder that Pigé’s performance is so intensely precise and feeling – the piece is his brainchild and it is absolutely reflected in the passion of his performance. For 75 minutes, Pigé hurtles himself around in a mania of desperation to seize memories as they come close to the surface before lingering and fading. He is thrust into various memories which play out like antique film – disjointed and skipping, freezing and flitting backwards and forwards beyond all control. Each memory is a burst of action and those scenes become increasingly frantic as Tom seems to begin searching for a particular moment with his loved one to re-live. As Tom pushes himself further into these memories, they become more obscure and fluid; montages see lines blurred and Pigé is left panting and flailing toward the floor. Each energy burst is followed by a lull in which Tom recovers and begins to navigate his situation in the present and while the lulls offer up moments of reflection, they do become more static than poignant as they begin to be overused in the latter half of the show. My only other criticism is that while the musical underscoring is mostly highly impactful – pausing, teetering and flowing in sync with the action, it unfortunately drowned out some of the few moments of dialogue – most frustratingly during the frenzied finale when the dialogue felt most important. I love that the sound is so constant and almost invasive in its prominence but I would have liked to hear the dialogue when necessary…Through Tom’s eyes, we see his childhood; mother, friends, school and first romance before we transition to teenhood with shifting dynamics within relationships and onto adulthood and marriage. There is much to provoke sentimentality as the poignancy of Tom’s situation plays out of course, but the childhood scenes allow us to see an altogether more sprightly and care-free Tom. As a child he is gleeful and mischievous – Pigé’s boyish looks compliment the untameable energy of the scrappy young boy as he playfully antagonises peers and teacher. His flirtations with future wife Isabella earn knowing nods from the audience as the piece captures various human experiences with insight and surprisingly concise meaning within a primarily wordless story. We learn about Tom by watching the fragments of the life he has lived; he’s a man who has known great happiness, making his current situation all the more tragic as we see him trying to seize memories that cannot be tamed into repeating themselves fully or being conjured at will. Here we have a man at the mercy of his happy past simply because the joy he feels re-living those memories never lasts and they become muddled to the point of torment.Tom’s nearest and dearest, Isabella and Sophie, are played by Louise Wilcox who is very much the perfect counter-part for Pigé and his boundless physical energy. The pair are partners in crime within the classroom before swirling about the stage as young lovers until an unknown event sees friction arise in what is otherwise an idealised vision of love and companionship. Wilcox is just as sharp and precise in her movements as Pigé and some of the visuals created by the pair are beautiful to watch play out. Wilcox also plays the daughter, Sophie with a quiet dismay as she painstakingly maintains patience with her father who struggles to distinguish her from her mother. Emma, an adorable troublemaker at school and Tom’s mother, Mrs Dennis, are played by Eyglò Belafonte who brings warmth to each role but particularly shines as the grinning youngster up to no good. Matthew Austin takes the form of drinking buddy Mike and allows us a rare glimpse into Tom’s past as a grown up as opposed to the memories he seems to treasure most, which are farther away from the surface.As a production, The Nature of Forgetting seems to glorify capturing complex ideas through deceptively simplistic staging. A small platform centre stage marks the territory of memory while the wider stage offers Tom’s current environment in an empty home. Some of Malik Ibheis’s choices for costume and props have wonderful and instant impact; drumsticks used as pencils toy with perspectives before the ‘children’ become teens and get hold of more to-scale writing equipment. The sequence with the bike is inspired and a joy to watch – a real ode to old school physical trickery with perspectives. School uniforms set the tone for Tom’s most distant memories while dated dresses provide constant reminders of the shifting dynamics between past and present. Sequences involving a sweet shop and movie theatre are simply conjured up through Katherine Graham’s lighting in the same way the cast conjure up times and places through simple movement and expression. But it is the beautifully intertwining and complex use of physical expression which is the true strength of the production; it highlights the strength of meaning in the unsaid, which seems perfectly fitting for a production about the transience of experience and the difficulty of preserving memories.
The Nature of Forgetting plays at West Yorkshire Playhouse as part of the Every Third Minute Festival until March 9th 2018 and you can get your tickets here.