Mnemonic

Tue 17th – Sat 21st May 2016

reviews

Jessie Davidson

at 08:51 on 18th May 2016

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Mnemonic is an interesting experiment of a play which at times seemed to work. Thought-provoking and performed by a skilled cast, it questions memory and the importance of our origins. Nonetheless the production had some holes and at points the different narrative strands were difficult to link up.

Mnemonic interrogates the theme of memory, with two interlinked plots. A young woman (played by Avigail Tlalim) seeks out her unknown father across the European mountains while her nerve wracked husband (Os Leanse) tries to assemble the pieces of her story, waiting behind. This is somewhat interestingly juxtaposed with the story of the discovery of the frozen body of a Neolithic iceman. The links between these two plots were somewhat strained at points, and it was left to the end before a clear link was established.

The writing is clever. The prologue sets off with a quasi-scientific speech about the workings of memory and the importance of repetitions to create links in our brain. As the plot unfolds uncanny repetitions of words and phrases link up the two plots, and we see the workings of memory on ourselves. The production has a dreamlike, hallucinogenic feel, complimented well by the psychedelic lighting.

The acting was impressive all round, with outstanding execution of supporting roles in particular. Martha Murphy performed an excellent range of characters, including a comedic Greek taxi driver and an arrogant American scientist putting forward ridiculous iceman theories. The roles were so well executed it was difficult to realise the same actor was playing both parts. A convincing and impressive command of accents and languages was displayed by many cast members, including Elise Hagan, whose acting of a French hotel mistress left by her husband provided an interesting interlude to the main plots.

The fraught relationship between the leading characters was also well presented. Os Leanse successfully conveyed the emotional fragility of the man with his life falling apart, and the moments of shy awkwardness (when his wife asked him, over the phone, to take his clothes off) were especially well executed. The scenes between these two did come across as slightly repetitive and dull, however, after the swift and sometimes confusing action with the minor characters.

After initially seeming simplistic, the staging soon came into its own, and was an experiment that worked. The large white screen, projected onto with multi coloured lights, added to the dreamlike feel and fitted with the experimental quality of the whole production. The use of the area behind the screen for news flashes gave a multi-layered dimension to reality, added to by the use of sounds of modernity, such as phone calls and the voiceover of the Eurostar. Such a multi-layered soundscape, if creating confusion at the beginning, worked to brilliant effect throughout the play as a whole.

The production aimed at depth and meaning as well as humour. It forcibly stimulated audiences to confront their own memories with some edgy audience participation. Involving a blindfold and a leaf, this experience had each of us questioning our new years’ day hangovers and our first kiss. This was a wonderful way into the action of the play, introducing the main character as someone who had taken part in the experiment, in a metatheatrical twist.

Yet after this one scene the self-questioning the play provoked for the audience was minimal. Instead what stands out from the production are the moments of comedy gold: a woman phoning into the iceman research headquarters to ask for donations of Neolithic sperm, and a hilarious scene set at a conference displaying the errors of multilingual communication.

If you’re looking for something edgy, you will find it in Mnemonic, the dreamlike student drama which seeks to combine depth and humour. Although imperfect, it is a generally successful theatrical experiment, with moments of true comedy brought out by a talented cast.

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