"What is left when memory is gone?"

| by Eleanor Turney

Theatre Re’s show may focus on dementia and memory loss, but it’s really about life, Artistic Director Guillaume Pige tells Eleanor Turney

The Nature of Forgetting. Photograph: Danilo Moroni

The Nature of Forgetting deals with memory and memory loss, so I think the experience will be quite different depending on your own situation. If you're personally affected by dementia, then the experience will be very intimate. And if you've never had to experience what it means to live with memory loss, then you're watching the show like any other show, and it's about developing empathy and the ability to wear someone else's shoes.

We didn't really want to make a show about dementia. What we're doing is using dementia as a tool to unravel something else. The question that led our exploration is, what is left when memory's gone? And the idea was that if we find an answer to that, we find out what it means to be human. What do you and I have in common, regardless of everything else that happens around us? That's quite important, because then the show is not about dementia, it's about life.

Throughout the project, I've interviewed older people who have difficulties remembering. I also interviewed people who have been diagnosed with dementia and their carers. We'd do some interviews, then there'd be some rehearsals, and then we'd invite all of the people we'd interviewed to see the work, and to give their responses straight away. It's interesting because it feels like this work has a very deep and emotional resonance. 

It seems we've managed to put on stage something that people are going through, even if they can't put it into words or explain it. Without wanting to sound presumptuous, it feels like what we are doing on stage is giving them a way to express themselves. 

"It's not sadness that comes through, more the joy of being alive"

Dementia affects all the people around the individual. When we opened the show and started to perform to larger audiences, we found that there's a deep connection because it resonates with personal experiences. I like to chat to people afterwards, and it often gets really personal really quickly. I think it's quite rare to have that in theatre, where people open up straight away and want to tell you about their experiences.

It's not sadness that comes through, more the joy of being alive. It's great, because that's the danger with making a show like this – that it rapidly becomes patronising or sentimental. I think we've managed to stay away from those two, and to present something else, and I'm quite proud of that!

Obviously, the show also has resonance around the world, for many reasons. It's not just about the theme of the show but also because of the way that we do it. We're not the first people to make a show about dementia, but we're doing something different, using visual and physical theatre to portray our story.

What is interesting to us is not making a show about the daily struggles of dementia, but to look at what's actually going on in the brain, through a kind of mental landscape that we're putting on stage. We don't really use language – there's maybe five sentences in the whole show. We rely a lot on music and movement and physicality, things that people can instantly recognise and make sense of.

 

Guillaume Pige, Artistic Director of Theatre Re, was talking to Eleanor Turneya freelance journalist, editor and arts consultant, and Co-Director of Incoming Festival.

The Nature of Forgetting is at Pleasance Courtyard (Pleasance Forth) from 327 August (not on 14 August).

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