Arts writer, Caitlin Tilley casts her thoughts on Theatre Re’s latest project at West Yorkshire Playhouse.
I was unsure what to expect from Theatre Re’s The Nature of Forgetting, but I was intrigued to see how they would translate the theme of dementia into drama. Having collaborated with UCL Neuroscience Professor Kate Jeffery, as well as speaking with elderly members of the community and those with dementia, the ensemble deliver a well-researched and informed interpretation of ageing minds. Guillaume Pigé, who not only conceived and directed the piece but also plays the lead role of Tom, is joined by Louise Wilcox, Eygló Belafonte and Matthew Austin in an array of incredibly empathetic performances.
Clothes rails frame a raised square on stage, serving as both an integral prop and costume changes for the cast throughout. The few props are utilised to their creative maximum by the cast, who evoke poignant scenes as snapshots of main character Tom’s life. The stage within the stage allows for a touching fluidity and intricacy of movement, helping us to understand better than any other means of communication the delicacy and essence of life that remains when memory fails us. This is also owed to the unbreakable bond between the four characters. Interwoven into each other’s lives, their relationships form the thread that runs through the play. They dance strikingly in sync, equally united and isolated by their movements.
The school blazer Tom mistakes for his suit jacket becomes a vehicle to the joys of childhood. This surpasses a nostalgic recollection; we are there with the characters experiencing it first-hand. Though the audience are never quite sure exactly what is going on or what time frame of Tom’s life we are in, this only seems to add to the quality of the play. Rather than detraction, this deepens our appreciation the overarching beauty of the interactions and celebration of life. Even when our brain fails us, we keep with us eternally our experiences and how they have made us who we are today.
On top of all this, the music accompanies the acting beautifully. A duo just visible in the shadows of the stage transform the drama with live excerpts, suitably unsettling the audience in the wake of Tom’s frustrations, or further lifting spirits as the ensemble tumble and turn in a depiction of joyous school days. It was only towards the end I realised that the voices in Tom’s memory floating here and there came from characters using onstage microphones at the corners of the set.
Overall, the piece has an incredibly intimate feel, with the audience right at the heart of the experience. From the set and structure of the play, we can see the theatrical skeleton in the same way the actors attempt to strip back to the inner workings of Tom’s life and mind. This is meta-theatre at its best.
Theatre Re states in their brochure that “Ultimately, our piece is not about dementia.” And they are right – it is about so much more. It is about life, brought to us with immense vibrancy and vitality. I can say with confidence that The Nature of Forgetting is not a play you will forget easily.
(Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Playhouse)