Theatre Re’s The Nature of Forgetting was one of the big hits at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer, so it’s no wonder they are now doing a national tour, starting at Shoreditch Town Hall in London. And the play lives up to its hype.
The few audible lines of text in the performance are spoken at the very beginning, when Sophie is giving her father Tom instructions on how to dress for his 55th birthday party. After she leaves and Tom goes through his wardrobe, trying to dress himself, memories from his past start rolling in. What follows is an emotional rollercoaster of both trivial and important moments in Tom’s life, mostly centred on the part of it that he shared with his partner Isabella.
From this point onwards, no more text is needed; the actors are accompanied by an exquisite soundtrack, performed live by composer and multi-instrumentalist Alex Judd and a percussionist, who occasionally step into the action too. They provide all the music and sounds to the play, and are so in sync with the actors that you almost forget they are there sometimes, and you’re not listening to a pre-recorded track.
What’s more, the actors portray everything there is to know in this heartfelt story through their wonderful physicality. With excellent timing, smooth transitions and energetic movement, the story flows from comedic to touching and back again with effortless ease. Tom (Guillaume Pigé) and Isabella (Louise Wilcox) are a beauty to watch, and Eygló Belafonte and Mathhew Austin transform into all the other characters seamlessly. Set pieces and props are thrown and moved around with chaotic precision, and the open, wingless staging gives the impression that nothing is being hidden from us.
As Tom stumbles from one memory into another, occasionally snapping back into the present, the pieces of his past slowly come together, and the circles in the story start emerging. This narrative collage works well, though there is the occasional scene that remains a little vague or seems slightly redundant.
There is nothing new or imaginative about Tom’s life story itself – it even borders on the cliché, which at some point becomes a bit of a shame – but the way in which The Nature of Forgetting is presented is what makes this play so worthwhile. The fact that Guillaume Pigé conceived and directed the piece while starring in the main role is a real achievement. For this is theatre at its best: a lifetime in just over an hour, the human condition through the lens of art. The few seconds of silence after the black-out are heavy with emotion, and this time it’s not the sound of hesitation, but of people emerging from a trance, and cherishing the moment.
The Nature Of Forgetting plays at Shoreditch Town Hall until Saturrday 28th April
Merel van ‘t Hooft.