Martin (sole performer John Rayment) is a cabbie and revels in showing off his encyclopaedic knowledge of routes around London. However, Martin also has a medical condition: an accident during root canal surgery in 2008 left him with acute retrograde amnesia so he is unable to form new memories after that date.
Martin lives, therefore, in a Timeless state with child-like dependency upon his long-suffering wife, Tracey. Martin greets each day with a sense of wonder: marvelling at developments in technology and the changes in his body—13 years older than he recalls. However, Martin has a growing suspicion of something he would rather not investigate but feels increasingly compelled to consider.
Brian Coyle’s script for Timeless is a masterclass in exploring complex, demanding issues in a vivid and concise manner. The author blends the personal with the philosophical. The practical aspects of coping with Martin’s condition are outlined as is the impact upon his family. Martin’s wife provides him with a daily written summary of his condition and also endures him explaining a theory about his illness he has painstakingly developed but which she has heard many times before.
Forced into contemplation, Martin considers whether memory is a burden which anchors us to events in the past and so inhibits the potential for development. Or perhaps memory, a recollection of past experiences, shapes our personalities. Coyle builds a grim gallows' humour into the play—Martin’s son has a habit of tampering with his daily briefing note to give the impression the year is 2050 or that the accident turned him gay.
Coyle’s script creates challenges for the director and actor. Charlotte Peters copes with the bane of the director’s life—short scenes and frequent changes—in an imaginative manner. A ticking countdown to scene changes and a whooshing sound effect—like a rubber band stretched to breaking point and snapping back—suggests Martin has gone as far as he can in recalling his recent past and has reverted to his default period of 2008. The repetition of scenes, Martin reciting his condition or his apprehension at his dental appointment, is oppressive and ominous, helping the audience share his disorientated and confused state of mind.
Rather than emphasise the horror arising from loss of abilities due to sudden illness, by using a protagonist with exceptional skills, Coyle uses an everyman figure with mundane concerns who greets the changes in his life with a bewildered resignation rather than anger. John Rayment behaves in a very British stiff-upper-lip manner—making the best of a bad situation and not complaining—in his interpretation of Martin. The cabbie is constantly looking on the bright side, marvelling at the size of modern televisions and admiring the maturity of his wife’s body with the innocently lascivious remark he has always fancied older women.
Yet Rayment’s increasingly distraught behaviour makes clear the confusion and apprehension Martin is experiencing. There is a growing sense of horror as Martin pieces together suspicions he would rather not acknowledge but cannot ignore and Rayment has an excellent moment of pure self-sacrifice.
As the play features the repetition of scenes, it must have been tempting for author Coyle to cheat and offer an inconclusive ending. Thankfully, he pursues a definitive and wholly satisfying conclusion. Timeless is a play hard to forget for all the right reasons.
Reviewer: David Cunningham