The Nature Of Forgetting

A touching portrayal of the fragility of memory
February 4, 2023

Dementia is an undeniably complex illness, and sadly a very common condition that I feel a lot of the mainstream media shies away from. This is partially why I was so intrigued when I discovered that Theatre Re’s ‘The Nature of Forgetting’ was coming to The Lowry Theatre in Salford earlier this week.

Directed by Guillaume Pigé, ‘The Nature of Forgetting’ transports us into the past and present of Tom (Guillaume Pigé), who is suffering from early onset dementia. Of course, Pigé hasn’t gone into this intricate topic blind - the award-winning visual theatre company worked alongside UCL Neuroscience Professor Kate Jeffery, the Alzheimer’s Society and real people living with dementia to ‘create links between science and real human experience’.

The play is set on the eve of Tom’s 55th birthday, as concerned daughter Sophie (Louise Wilcox/Luna Tosin) tries to coax her dad into getting changed into a jacket and tie for his celebratory meal. However, as Tom stands in front of the rail of clothes before him, he runs his hands across the fabric of the shirts, coats and dresses, and we watch as each item evokes a different memory.  

Without word or warning, we are propelled backwards in time and experience Tom’s life through his eyes in the form of near-poetic physical theatre. From classroom mischief to the day he weds his childhood sweetheart Isabella (Louise Wilcox/Luna Tosin), we watch as Tom reconstructs his memories piece by piece, trying to cling on to the fragments as they inevitably slip from his grasp.

I can honestly say that I was enthralled from start to finish, and this wasn’t because of elaborate dialogue or intricate set design. Quite the opposite, in fact - ‘The Nature of Forgetting’ is minimalist to a tee, and this, in my opinion, is the play’s strength.

Despite the fact that the main props used throughout the majority of the play are a rail of clothes and a set of desks, the six-man cast prove that you don’t need fancy gear or rambling speech to bring a character to life. Instead, it is all about movement. Guillaume Pigé is fantastic to watch, and seeing his character switch from confusion, to distress, to sheer infantile joy - sometimes all in the space of just a few minutes - is captivating. This is only heightened further by Alex Judd’s exceptional composition. ‘The Nature of Forgetting’ simply wouldn’t have the same impact if it wasn’t for the delightful correlation between music and action, with every note played by the onstage band acting as a representation of Tom’s tumultuous mental state.

However, the thing I loved the most about ‘The Nature of Forgetting’ was the theatre group’s fresh perspective on such a difficult topic. It would have been all too straightforward to tell the story through Sophie’s eyes instead - a play about a girl caring for a father with early onset dementia would have been a touching one. But Theatre Re have steered away from the obvious, and put real effort into crafting an artistic representation of how dementia is experienced first-hand. What would assumedly be a heart-breaking piece becomes something beautiful instead - a glorious celebration of life, full of little moments that I’m sure every person in the audience could relate to.

Of course, that isn’t to say that I didn’t shed a tear -I actually sobbed throughout the entire play, pretty much. But I left with a spring in my step, a desire to live in the present and a wholly positive outlook on life, which I think is a pretty good outcome.

Theatre Re and 'The Nature of Forgetting' are next at Newcastle's Northern Stage on February 17 and 18. Tickets and info HERE