The Nature of Forgetting at Northern Stage – an appreciation


The Nature of Forgetting 

at Northern Stage 17 February 2023

A powerful theatrical experience that draws us into a staging of the experience of memory in Tom, who has young onset dementia as he prepares for his fifty-fifth birthday. We meet a full range of emotions as he is engaged in a storm of memories of earlier life – memories that bring joy and pain, memories he dances in and memories he falls within,, a dance of memory gone and going wild.

We have four performers. Tom (Guilaume Pigé) begins with his daughter Sophie (Louise Wilcox) who is getting him ready for his birthday party. She leaves him with instructions as to where to find his jacket and tie – and so begins his odyssey to get them on. There is a stage within the stage and he is drawn to it by another jacket and memories of a school blazer and tie — and so on that stage play out moments of Tom and three friends at and around school and elsewhere in his life. The others are Isabella (Sophie’s mum and also played by Louise Wilcox) and Mike (Calum Littley) and Emma (Eygló Belafonte who also plays Tom’s mum Mrs Denis). It’s a presentation of dynamic vignettes between the actors, acting up in class, on the way to school, after school, getting ready for school, at learning and in their youth. I was often left breathless it is so full of energy and at one point when Tom is seemingly cast out of his imagination from the stage within a stage and he too, and our actor, were heard out of breath with it all. There were such moments of pause as Sophie comes back to check on her dad’s progress.

This is not all happening silently, there are snatches of dialogue but mostly that is beyond these memories and it is played for us in body language, and I thought as it did so of the precept that 70% of communication is body language. But we also have a soundtrack of powerful music to go with this – a soundtrack that is both led by the performance and at times leads the performance. It both has a lucid lyricism at times of powerful memory and also the power of dissonance as memory falls apart perhaps or simply gets stuck. There is rhythm built at times and yet that in itself cannot be and is not reliable, as indeed this is memory going wrong, being lost, a struggle with forgetting and in forgetting of course remembering, something – an experience that the cast owned later may in fact be a wild surmise and yet something they researched carefully to approximate.

Thinking of it again I am almost breathless at the power of it. It is breathless not only in the intensity of the physical performance but also with the changing emotions of the memories and in following Tom enveloped and lucid in the memory but also at times lost in what is before him and unable to direct it as he wants. Then also we have the movement of this dynamic Tom in memory back and forth with Tom quite lost in memory and then also in his hunt for jacket and tie, and also the journey between Sophie and Isabella of Louise Wilcox. It’s tempting to think of this experience of following such massive and sudden changes of experience as somehow paralleling the process of confusion Tom’s experiencing, in a small way. I’m left, together with the intricacies and energy of the choreography, in awe of the performers.

It adds up to an intimate picture of moments Tom is left with as his memory is lost and control of it lost. In a hugely interesting post performance interview including a neuroscientist and researcher and an Admiral Nurse specialising in dementia support we learned that a starting point of the project was to ask “what is left when memory is gone”. This question that had been stimulated by Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town and a question as to what might be that is eternal about human beings. An exploration that has led to these moments of luminosity in the memory and life of Tom and this dance with them. Moments that we may almost take for granted and which seem to have little to do with the value we put on so much day to day but which are indeed what seem to count. Moments in eternity, moments to think on finding and making.

A powerful delight and also a reminder, maybe not so much a memento mori and a reminder of life and to live. In the post performance discussion the cast were asked what they took away from the piece and that was part of their feedback, a reminder to be present, not in the past or future but present now. I found it superb and would love to see it again – not least to see it in a slightly different way as the cast explained could happen in minutia. It was played, shown to us and played to us in music with great skill and care, and a lot of practice having had over 150 performances around the world.

In developing and exploring the piece they were guided by scientific insight and the insight of experiencers of dementia and their carers. A very rich experience, profound in its call to see a life in the round and impacted by dementia. I had picked up I think that it was young onset dementia but had not confirmed it before the performance, so when at the end Tom’s journey reaches his party and birthday cake it was deeply sobering to see his age.

A dementia researcher in the audience during the questions recommended it for people impacted by dementia, and I can only agree, though it may also be that support would be helpful to have available as this had a huge emotional power to it.

Two further performances took place 18 February 2023 at Northern Stage – the piece is on tour now, more information on where to find it at –

Creative Team

Conceived & Directed by Guillaume Pigé

Devised by the Company

Isabella / Sophie – Louise Wilcox

Emma / Mrs Denis – Eygló Belafonte

Mike – Calum Littley

Tom – Guillaume Pigé

Multi-instrumentalist / Teacher – Alex Judd or Henry Webster

Percussionist / Schoolboy Nathan Gregory

Composer Alex Judd

Lighting Designer Katherine Graham

Rehearsal Director Eygló Belafonte

Re-lighter, Stage Manager Josephine Tremelling

Sound Technician, Deputy Stage Manager Benjamin Adams

Costume & Prop Designer Malik Ibheis

Dramaturg A.C. Smith

Scientific Collaborator Professor Kate Jeffery

External Curator Andrew Visnevski

Devisers Matthew Austin Malik Ibheis Chris Jones Alex Judd

Fred McLaren Keiran Pearson Guillaume Pigé Eygló Belafonte Andres Velasquez Louise Wilcox

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