Theatre Re bring ‘The Nature of Forgetting’ to Tobacco Factory Theatre freshly basking in wonderful reviews, including a very positively received Fringe run. As our protagonist Tom (Guillaume Pigé) turns fifty-five, living with early onset dementia, he grapples with his fading memories. Can I be honest here? The summary left me feeling like my Friday night was about to be a bit of a downer. But more than that, I felt like I was going to see images I’d seen before, hear beautiful monologues but unoriginal ones; I wondered what was left to do with the material, how much more of this story we had to tell. I felt like I would leave the theatre emotional, but not inspired.
I was so wrong.
Instead of sitting in the sadness, Theatre Re have devised a piece that instead lets melancholy balance out pure delight and wonder. As much as his condition is sad, angering, awful, we are also led to see that Tom was a man full of life, who lived with passion, who loved and was loved back. The cast (Pigé, Louise Wilcox, Eygló Belafonte, and Matthew Austin) are able to imbue such life and emotion into their movements, childhood friends that grow up together, schoolmates running riot, adults celebrating the best moments together. When not in the scene, they stand vigil over Tom, guardians of his memories, watching over him as he struggles to keep hold of them.
The dialogue is sparse, the music instead acting as words. Alex Judd’s composition, played live with Keiran Pearson, is a character of its own. A perfect representation of memories, the emotions that we are left with, the images imprinted on us, rather than the words so easily edited in hindsight. The movement, somewhere between mime and dance, is the strength of the piece. Taking turns in joyfulness and misery, we fall in and out of Tom’s memories without warning, transitioned with just a school desk or a jacket. One of my favourite moments was a bike ride to school- almost cinematic in its enthusiasm and marvel- with the music, it felt like something out of an classic foreign film.
During the post-show talk, one thing that was prominent was this idea of collaboration, that the piece was born out of organic partnerships between the cast, the music, the staging; that the work was one of shared agency and creativity. And as they were talking about this, it clicked how they had achieved the amazing chemistry between them. The performers fell with each other with trust and passion, the music was nuanced and powerful- punishing in places- creating this perfect storm on the stage.
The piece is tragic and uplifting, breath-taking all the way, and if you get the opportunity to see it you really should.
Review by Josie Sutton