Theatre Re’s artistic director spoke to Love London Love Culture about The Nature of Forgetting, playing at the Shoreditch Town Hall from 24 to 28 April.
Hi Guillaume thank you for talking to Love London Love Culture. Could you tell me a little bit more about The Nature of Forgetting?
It deals with the inability of a man to recollect his life. Featuring specially composed live music and skilfully executed physicality, it explores what happens in the brain when we forget. Our main character is Tom; a middle-aged father living with early onset dementia, being cared for by his daughter Sophie. We present him on the day of his 55th birthday. As he struggles to get dressed for his party, the feel of his clothes sparks him into life and unravels a tale of friendship, love and guilt.
How did you come across The Nature of Forgetting?
It all started with one question, which was: what is left when memory is gone? To find answers, we fetched inspiration from the work of Polish writer Bruno Schulz and Polish theatre director Tadeusz Kantor, with pieces such as The Dead Class and Wielopole, Wielopole. Both shows deal with the world of childhood memories and the impossibility of returning to one’s past – which is what happens to people living with dementia. They are unable to reconstruct past memories. We were also really inspired by the atmosphere, the apparent simplicity and the inherent theatricality of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.
It seems it has been quite a long process to get the show to the stage – has it been a challenge to get it just right?
It took 16 months to create The Nature of Forgetting, so it seems quite long but in fact, it did not take much longer than any of our previous pieces. We work slowly and feel very fortunate to be able to take all that time to make our work. It allows us to research our subject matter in depth and engage with a wide range of professionals from different fields. It also gives us the opportunity to genuinely respond creatively to all the material collected outside the rehearsal room and take risks, rather than having the pressure to deliver.
What would you say the main purpose of the show is?
Originally we wanted to find an answer to the question: what is left when memory is gone. I don’t think we found the answer, so we made the show in response to that question. Ultimately, the piece is about the fragility of life and that eternal ‘something’ we all share which is left when memory is gone.
What would you say makes The Nature of Forgetting special? I think that what makes our piece special is all the people who participated in it’s making. We collaborated with Professor Kate Jeffery of the Neuroscience Department at the University College of London. This gave us a good understanding of what actually happens in the brain when we forget and allowed us to use some of these mechanisms to develop our piece.
The show was also informed via workshops and interviews conducted with people living with dementia and their carers throughout our development process. Our aim was not to collect personal stories but to explore the special bond that exist between memory and music, and to create links between the science and the real human experience.
All of these encounters at different stages throughout the development process really gave a soul to the work.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the show? I hope the audience comes out of the theatre with both a smile on their face and a tear in their eye, having experienced the fragility of life.
How would you sum up The Nature of Forgetting for potential audiences? It is a life-affirming journey into one man weakening mind, where broken does not have to mean defeated.