Tragedy is that this is so for­get­table

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - THEATRE JOHN NATHAN

Park Theatre

THE BRAIN and iden­tity have been the sub­ject of some bril­liant work re­cently, not least Nick Payne’s Incog­nito, in which the main pro­tag­o­nist was a man who was trag­i­cally un­able to re­mem­ber the re­cent past. Peter Quil­ter’s hos­pi­tal-set new play takes a dif­fer­ent, but equally promis­ing tack. In­stead of be­ing un­able to re­mem­ber events and con­versa- tions that are min­utes old, Quil­ter’s hero Michael, played here by Alis­tair McGowan, wakes from a three-week brain clot-in­duced coma to find that he has lost all mem­ory of the pre­vi­ous 11 years. When his dom­i­neer­ing mother Carol (Mag­gie Olleren­shaw) dis­cov­ers that he isn’t in the here-and-now but back in post-9/11 and pre-7/7 world of 2005 the scene is set, it seems, for an in­ter­est­ing dra­matic in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

News footage silently plays on the TV screen in Michael’s hos­pi­tal room, where all the ac­tion takes place. And for a while it ap­pears that Quil­ter’s play is gear­ing up to ex­plore the ef­fect that world events have on an in­di­vid­ual’s (and the col­lec­tive) psy­che. Could the past 10 years of ter­ror­ism, war and rag­ing epi­demic have had a col­lec­tively de­press­ing ef­fect, one that it is only pos­si­ble to es­cape if you’ve had the slate wiped clean?

But it turns out that Quil­ter is less in­ter­ested in the ef­fect that mem­ory loss has on the am­ne­siac than the peo­ple around him. This is also a po­ten­tially in­ter­est­ing av­enue, but here it’s de­fined by some­thing much more con­ven­tional. A di­a­logue of bit­ter re­sent­ment be­tween the two peo­ple who love Michael most — mother Carol and Michael’s lover of the pre­vi­ous ten years, Paul (Daniel Wey­man) of whom Michael has no mem­ory and who Carol blames for mak­ing her bril­liant, artis­tic son dull.

As the two vie for Michael’s af­fec­tions, the pa­tient looks on with world­weary be­muse­ment, as well he might. Be­cause, in­stead of be­ing at the cen­tre of an ad­ven­ture about how a dam­aged brain af­fects the mind, re­veal­ing the pluses and minuses and the neu­ro­log­i­cal quirks — an area hinted at in pass­ing when Michael refers to Oliver Sacks’s fa­mous case study about the man who mis­took his wife for a hat, though dis­missed with the line “I have no wife and no hat” — Michael in­stead finds that he is the sub­ject and prize of a much less in­ter­est­ing tug-of-war.

Dra­mat­i­cally, this a pedes­trian ap­proach. There is no at­tempt here to re­flect what mem­ory loss ac­tu­ally feels like, nor does Quil­ter’s writ­ing seek to rep­re­sent the rush and con­fu­sion of its re­turn.

McGowan de­liv­ers a beau­ti­fully nu­anced, sub­tly camp per­for­mance. But a bit like the 4,000 days of Michael’s lost decade, the two hours of this play feel like a lost op­por­tu­nity.

Dull: A co­matose Alis­tair McGowan and his lover Daniel Wey­man in

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