Golden Age Theatre Company return to London’s fringe with Ian Dixon-Potter’s new play, Tiresia, running for a limited time at Camden’s Etcetera Theatre. [Please be aware of potential, unavoidable, spoilers.]
Young artist Tiresia (Natasha Killam) meets her old friend Harold (Albert Clack) at the pub, and it’s clear they’re very close but have a lot to catch up on. She is made all the more mysterious when Harold’s granddaughter Laura (Marissa Joseph) arrives and has no idea who she is. All that’s clear is that she’s connected to the famous artist Arthur Rawlinson, and is trying to make a name for herself – though she also appears to have suffered some sort of injury, as she begins the play limping, and is also experiencing false memories. Tiresia becomes an instant source of fascination for Laura, whose pursuit only ends when Tiresia is forced to reveal the shocking truth of her identity.
Whilst it’s obvious from the beginning that there’s something quite different about Tiresia (she says “wireless”, and seems to have known Harold for an impossibly long time), what Dixon Potter does really well is drip-feed information through each scene. It keeps you guessing until it is ultimately confirmed from Tiresia herself. The subject matter is interesting; there has often been speculation that people who’ve received organ transplants have acquired memories or emotions from their donor, so is there any scientific merit in it? The play has its basis in science fiction, in this respect, using the hypothesis of “memory RNA” that’s located outside of the brain.
There are a couple of scenes that feel quite jargon heavy, for example Laura attempting to put her psychology student status to good use, whilst Tiresia also talks through her thoughts on what may be causing her false memories. The interaction doesn’t have a natural feel to it – partly due to a slight imbalance in technical and non-technical terms. Also, this kind of conversation doesn’t seem consistent with the rest of Marissa Joseph’s portrayal of her character.
However, as well as having elements of science fiction, it also interrogates people’s approach to death. Should we use scientific advances to try and avoid it in any way possible? Or are there lines we must draw in the sand? I’m slightly uncomfortable with the idea of the man’s brain being put into a woman’s body because it was the only one available, rather than it being a conscious decision from Arthur to finally express his true gender identity. Tiresia also comes across as unbearably pretentious, with a seemingly infinite number of catchphrases; coupling that with her life-extending decision and lack of empathy for Alice and Celia (Louise Morell), she’s a very unlikeable character.
Of the cast of four, Albert Clack’s portrayal of Harold stands out. His character’s loyalty to his friend is obvious and admirable, though he questions as well as supports Tiresia as she adjusts to her situation. Clack’s performance is full of humanity, and you almost wish Harold were your friend.
My verdict? Without doubt a thought-provoking piece, showing up a very ugly side to human nature – some interesting ideas.
Tiresia runs at the Etcetera Theatre until 16 July 2017. Tickets are available online or from the box office.