Memories and movement: mime show The Nature of Forgetting tackles issue of dementia
PUBLISHED: 17:17 01 May 2018 | UPDATED: 08:37 02 May 2018
The Nature of Forgetting has won acclaim for its emotional but joyous look at what it means to begin to lose memories though dementia. As it comes to Norwich Playhouse, Simon Parkin discovers how this tale of friendship, love and guilt is told through mime.
Tom is living with early onset dementia. On his 55th birthday he dresses for his party, helped by his daughter, Sophie, as he struggles. But the tangled threads of disappearing memories spark him into life, unravelling a tale of friendship, love and guilt.
The Nature of Forgetting is physical theatre performance that offers a life-affirming journey into Tom’s weakening mind, where broken does not have to mean defeated.
Following a sell-out run at the 2017 London International Mime Festival, Edinburgh Fringe and Latitude Festival, Theatre: Re are bringing this moving but surprisingly joyous show about what is left when memory is gone to Norwich Playhouse.
Established in 2009, Theatre: Re is a London-based international ensemble that has won acclaim for thought-provoking and poignant work that examines fragile human conditions and spans the boundaries of mime and theatre.
The origins of The Nature of Forgetting came from wanting to explore memory rather than specifically address dementia as an issue, explains the show’s creator and director Guillaume Pigé.
“Originally we wanted to do a show about memory, but then when you look into memories you realise there are a lot of things that have been done,” he said. “So rather than being about remembering what became our focus was forgetting and how what we forget is much more a part of creating someone’s identity then remembering. If you think about it, we forget far more than we remember.
“That became very interesting. So it wasn’t originally about dementia, but rather to figure out what happens in the brain when you forget.”
To figure that out they turned for expert help to neuroscientist Professor Kate Jeffery from UCL in London.
“We were able to use the science to devise our piece,” said Guillaume. “Kate is absolutely wonderful. She is top notch in her field, she travels around the world and gives lectures about how the brain maps space to organise itself, but she had never done a project like this. She had never joined with a theatre company, so I think for her it was quite exciting too.”
Research on memory and amnesia was followed by interviewing people living with dementia to balance the science and the real human experience.
“From that we came to the question of dementia and our main protagonist, Tom, who is a middle age father living with early onset dementia,” says Guillaume. “However, I don’t think it is a show specifically about dementia, it’s quite the opposite. It’s a show about life, a celebration. We are using dementia as a tool to unravel the story. It’s like a counterpoint rather than the focus.”
The piece follows Tom’s memories, including back to school days, but the story was developed through improvisation rather than written.
“Now I am playing the part of Tom, but originally it was devised by a wonderful actor Andres Velasquez,” explains Guillaume. “When we started we didn’t have a story specifically in mind, we don’t start like that. We begin with objects, with movement sequences and improvisation.
“It is only by little by little, further down the line that we start to make sense of it and contextualise our characters and make them more real and grounded.”
Though the piece is accompanied by live music played on stage, it is largely a mime piece told through movement.
“Somehow it seemed right,” said Guillaume. “But it is interesting that it is described as mime. I think we all have a different understanding of what mime is. For me mime is to make a portrait of something using something else. It is about creating metaphors on stage.
“But I guess what we are doing is very visual and for this piece being visual and having live music felt like the right way forward because when we spoke to Kate Jeffery we realised that memory works visually. When you remember you first imagine the place then fill it with details.”
Audience reactions to the show have been overwhelming. “We had no idea when we opened the show that it would have such resonance with people,” said Guillaume. “I still can’t explain the sort of visceral reaction that some people have to it. But I think one element is that we all have a memory, so we can have empathy with Tom. Also sadly many of us know someone who is living with a form of dementia so we can all connect it to our personal experiences.”
To coincide with the show’s Norwich performance, Theatre: Re will also be running two special workshops at Norwich Theatre Royal’s Stage Two as part of the Dementia Season. Changing The Heartbeat (May 8, 4.30pm/7.30pm, £20) will be a mime workshop hosted by Guillaume; while Memory, Music and Magic (May 9, 10.30am, £5) is a workshop for people living with dementia and their carers.
• The Nature of Forgetting, Norwich Playhouse, May 9, 7.30pm, £14 (£12 cons), 01603 598598, norwichplayhouse.co.uk
• More details on the Creative Matters: Caring for Dementia season at theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk