Guest reviewer: Ellen Casey
One Hundred Trillion is a series of four short plays, developed by The Dot Collective and inspired by workshops for those living with dementia. Explained in the bar beforehand – by our guide, a man with a cane and only a slightly crazed look in his eye – is the ethos of the whole endeavour; to provide an insight into the joys that people living with dementia still have in their lives. In the Memory Room, we poked around in cubby holes and read from scrawled mind maps, piecing together for ourselves the fragments of a scattered mind – but a lot of what we found was optimistic. “If you come here, you will have a fun time with us – we have people from lots of cultures; Jamaica, Barbados, South London…” was a particularly favourite line of mine.
These plays are developed to appeal to the way that dementia sufferers now interact with the world – again, it is explained that though memories are shuffled around and muddled, the emotions that are attached to those memories are still vivid. If you go and spend a day with your grandmother who has Alzheimer’s, and you laugh and have a great time, she might not remember your name – but she will remember how you made her feel. Accordingly there’s a rawness that runs through One Hundred Trillion – touched on most urgently by I Could Have Danced All Night, an intimate story of enduring love and the power of stupid dancing. The emotions are close to the surface here, and the short play format packs a punch.
But One Hundred Trillion isn’t just an exhibition of plays; it is an experience. As we transition from room to room, often being chased out by ‘cleaners’ at the end of each play, we’re accompanied by music, dancing, small vignettes played out in front of us. It is like walking down a hallway of memory; everything in these transitions feels vaguely, dully familiar. It’s both comforting and slightly eerie.
The set design in each room has to take a lot of credit here; after Topsoil, which uses the backdrop of an allotment for a story of love lost and busybody neighbours, the back of a shed is pulled up and we’re led as an audience through it and out the back – passing a minutely detailed array of garden tools, tiny plants and even some Yorkshire tea and milk. The design in this play was especially impressive, and seeing a perfectly formed mini-allotment (at one point my friend leaned over and whispered, “She’s using real water to water those plants!”) against what is essentially a warehouse, is so disconcerting. One Hundred Trillion proves its point through a hundred tiny details; it’s immersive and makes the format even more compelling.
I have a special place in my heart for On The London Bus. It’s based on an improvisation worked out with a group of dementia sufferers where they all got on a bus heading to the seaside (because everyone, no matter where they’re from, has a fond memory of the seaside), either as their former occupations – engineer, RAF pilot, nurse, BBC newsreader – or someone completely different. It’s incredibly corny, campy, almost child-like. More than that, it’s great fun to watch and be a part of, and the joy of it really shines out of the performers. This really distilled the essence of One Hundred Trillion for me; you don’t have to remember things in perfect order, or at all, to feel happy when you’re singing (which we did), or to feel connection with a performance that is fun and full of life.
I left the Old Vic Workrooms still singing under my breath, and grinned the whole way home.
My verdict? Poignant, silly, informative – an incredibly worthwhile watch (even if just for the endorphins).
One Hundred Trillion ran at the Old Vic Workrooms from 7-11 May 2019.