U.K. Review: "The Nature of Forgetting" at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

Adam Bruce

  • United Kingdom Critic

The West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Every Third Minute Festival, a festival ultimately curated to encourage discussions about living with dementia, is well under way. Just under a week ago the Courtyard Theatre played host to their production of Still Alice, which sensitively brought to life the struggles of being diagnosed with the condition. Continuing in the same thread of the tangibility and power of memory is Theatre Re’s latest show The Nature of Forgetting, devised by the company and conceived and directed by Guillaume Pigé.

The Nature of Forgetting follows the story of 55-year old Tom (played by Pigé), a man living with early onset dementia. On his 55th birthday, we watch as he fights to keep his memories alive, and we are taken back to his school days, where he meets his future wife Isabella (Louise Wilcox). Through a series of intense physical sequences, primarily made up of a theatrical dialogue spanning the intersection of mime and physical theatre, we see Tom discover the innate, human sense of presence and belonging that will always survive even when memory is gone.

Speeding along in just over an hour and fifteen minutes, The Nature of Forgetting is nothing short of fast-paced, and its ensemble of performers must be commended for their relentless energy as they navigate the turbulent pulses of their vignettes of physical theatre. Bound together by both performative and design motifs, there is a real sense of slickness present within their work – and as a physical representation of the often chaotic fluidity of memory, The Nature of Forgetting works well.

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Admittedly after some time, however, these physical motifs and the constant stream of vignettes grow almost too intense to maintain a grip on the audience. From the piece’s tender opening moments, where we see Tom struggle to put on his jacket for his birthday, and where he also forgets the name of his daughter, there is promise of a piece that sensitively tackles the depiction of living with dementia. With only a tiny handful of moments that do this throughout, The Nature of Forgetting almost behaves like an avant-garde art installation, rather than a piece of theatre that reaches out to its audience to assist in the examination of such sensitive topics.

In fact, it almost feels like Pigé, in his role as the originator and director of the piece, and then the piece’s protagonist, lost sight of how best to let the audience digest what he was bombarding them with. Due to the way the narrative is handled, the piece is left with very little room to breathe – and it is hard to take in the interesting and effective scenography. Katherine Graham’s lighting design enhances the theme of fluidity in the piece, while Alex Judd’s compositions, performed live to great effect, give the piece a real sense of being in the moment. It’s this sense that the piece was at times clearly striving for, but the lack of directorial clarity hinders this goal and leaves its audience hanging on in the dark, trying to make sense of everything.

The stakes for the characters and the piece’s ambitions are ultimately set too high after the opening moments fade and the physical sequences begin. Relentless as the cast may be in their output of energy, there’s physically nowhere left for them to go after the first twenty minutes of the piece. As fascinating as their vignettes may be, as they try and raise the stakes there is a distinct lack of truth in their sequences – the truth that remains vital to the engagement and understanding of the audience.

The Nature of Forgetting is at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 9th March. For more information and tickets, visit: https://www.wyp.org.uk/events/the-nature-of-forgetting/