It’s no easy thing to create a piece on theatre on a topic as sensitive as early onset dementia. Achieving the right balance of pathos and gravitas, interspersed with enough positivity and enjoyment to keep things from getting too dark but simultaneously steering clear of over-sentimentality is akin to a tightrope balancing act over a minefield. Notwithstanding these challenges, Theatre Re pull off the act with exhilaration and grace.
From the opening scene, we’re introduced to Tom, a shambling, unconfident man who has become old before his time due to his tenuous grip on his memories. On the morning of his 55th birthday, his daughter comes to remind him that they’re expecting visitors for the occasion and he should dress himself accordingly. Soon after she leaves, Tom finds himself struggling to recollect exactly which jacket and tie she picked out for him, and as he flounders amongst the clothes rack, the memories come flooding back – at times like a tsunami, at others in the stop-start, staccato fashion of a leaky tap.
Dialogue is used sparingly throughout the production; a story this well told needs no words. Instead, the six-strong cast rely on their impeccable acting ability, a magnificent soundtrack and the kind of slick choreography that makes the audience swell with wonder. It’s superbly executed. Every scene change, every onstage interaction and every artfully reimagined memory is set to the kind of score that John Williams would boast about at a dinner party – simple, yet stirring; capable of euphoria one minute, disorientation and despair the next. The breathless bicycle scene is undoubtedly the stand-out set piece, but there are plenty of other gems to be viewed with virtually every new memory.
The use of stage props is unbounded in its imagination and sensational in its execution, as a schoolroom becomes a shop window or a wedding service with just a few rearrangements of furniture, while all four of the main ensemble (as well as the two multi-instrumentalists at the back of the stage) are simply exceptional. One minor criticism might be that the show is in danger of losing its way towards its denouement, but given its subject matter, such a development can be forgiven and is even perhaps to be expected; regardless, the life-affirming flourish with which it ends is sure to tug on the heartstrings of even the most cynical theatre-goer.
As Theatre Re themselves explain, The Nature of Forgetting might feature dementia, but it’s actually about that eternal “something” which endures long after our memories have faded. See this show and share something even further in common with those lucky enough to catch its Fringe run – it’s unlikely to be forgotten any time soon.