The Nature of Forgetting
Conceived and devised by Guillaume Pigé and Theatre Re company
Tobacco Factory Theatre
When confronted by someone with dementia, it can feel difficult to imagine the person in front of you any other way. Appearing a fragile shell, perhaps unable to even remember their own name, this same person is also storing a whole lifetime’s memories of happiness, joy, sadness and even tragedy.
So it is with Theatre Re’s The Nature of Forgetting which opens with the main character, Tom, being helped to dress by his daughter, Sophie. Unable even to remember to put on the jacket she has left out for him, he scrambles through his wardrobe. As he touches each item, jumbled memories from his past are played out in front of us by the talented and sensitive ensemble lead by Guillaume Pigé in the main role.
Together with Pigé, the cast of Louise Wilcox as Sophie and Tom’s wife Isabella, Matthew Austin as his schoolfriend Mike and Eygló Belafonte as his mother and schoolfriend put in hugely physical performances bringing to life Tom’s memories. Confused, sometimes repetitive and chronologically jumbled episodes remind us of the full and vibrant life he has lead until now. Hilarious scenes from school—snatching his first kiss, falling in love, getting married, racing bikes, passing exams—are played out by this hugely likable foursome together with scenes of tragedy and heartbreak.
Occasionally returning to the struggling older Tom, the contrast is a stark reminder of how fragile our minds are. If our existence is really a series of memories then what are we if we can longer access them? The play is a constant reminder of the cruelty of dementia.
Almost completely wordless, this production is underpinned by live music throughout by Alex Judd and Chris Jones (or Kieran Pearson). Composer Judd’s score provides the essential support to this mimed performance. Punctuating moments and magnifying emotions throughout the evening, the synchronisation between music and actions on stage is flawless.
If there are issues, they are that the whole can feel slightly too repetitive and revolves a little too much around the one character, Tom. Although Pigé’s performance is without doubt able to carry the role, the bigger picture might be slightly less repetitive if the other characters had been used more. Slightly disappointing is that it isn’t clear unless you read the programme notes if Tom is suffering from dementia or some form of other disorder (shock). You may have guessed before the end but it does mean the impact of some of the vignettes are diluted.
Nevertheless, this is a charming and richly rewarding evening and a heartfelt reminder of the vulnerability of the human mind and a warning that any one of us might be robbed of our memories, our lives, by its random cruelty.