Theatre Re return to London with their latest show, The Nature of Forgetting. It launched at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival and is now on tour across the UK for the next couple of months; it follows in the footsteps of Blind Man’s Song. In creating the show, the company have worked with renowned UCL neuroscientist Professor Kate Jeffery and organisations like the Alzheimer’s Society (conducting interviews and running workshops) – the result of this research is a production combining music, dance, mime and acting, telling a very human story with the assistance of science.
The show is about Tom, who is 55 and has early onset dementia. His daughter is trying to help him get ready for his birthday party, leaving him to put on the jacket and tie she’s picked out – he manages to get one arm into a sleeve, but panics when he can’t find the tie in that pocket. Shedding the jacket, he roots around the coat hangers looking for the right one, and triggers off some old memories when he chances upon different items of clothing.
But it’s not just your typical trip down memory lane with Theatre Re! Instead, you can almost feel the synapses buzzing & reconnecting as several other memories are awakened and feed into his consciousness. He focuses in on one moment, only for others to start intruding – one in particular gets clearer & clearer every time it pops back into Tom’s head, until he replays it in its devastating entirety.
As with their previous work, The Nature of Forgetting is heavily focused on the combination of physicality with live music. This works particularly well when exploring a subject matter like this; the brain is constantly reorganising & rewiring throughout your life (neuroplasticity), and subsequently it is a very busy part of the human body. Portraying this onstage through music & mime, as Tom rediscovers some memories, is a very clever idea and makes the whole thing more of a visceral experience. As it progresses you get a better sense of Tom’s history – the timeline of his memories starts to form in your own mind.
Alex Judd’s score (which he performs alongside Chris Jones or Keiran Pearson) is simply mesmerising. It’s completely evocative of the feelings each specific memory brings, meaning that you are right there with Tom as he slips backwards & forwards in time – from his schooldays to his wedding. The moments of silence are equally important (so it’s a shame that part of the performance space is a little creaky when walked on), breaking up the memories and providing moments of shock.
As well as this, the show is a visual wonder. Each performer is totally committed to even the slightest movement, precisely conceived & directed by Guillaume Pigé. He also performs in this piece, as Tom, with Louise Wilcox, Eyglò Belafonte & Matthew Austin in support as his childhood friends & members of his family. Each part is played with energy, sensitivity and great feeling. Tom running alongside as Isabella pedals on the bike is a real highlight, as a moment of fun but also a brilliant physical performance.
My verdict? A truly captivating show, ingeniously conceived and brilliantly performed – the pinnacle of physical theatre.