Mnemonic is a gripping consideration of memory and humanity – review

Mnemonic is a gripping consideration of memory and humanity – review

Complicité, the renowned British theatre company led by Simon McBurney, has revived its 1999 play Mnemonic in a reimagined production at the National Theatre. It’s something of a rollercoaster ride: at two hours straight through (no interval) it relentlessly drives its dual narratives forward, and it’s far from a conventional play, with more of a focus on the sensory experience and creating visually-striking imagery.

It starts with actor Khalid Abdalla directly addressing the audience, talking about his own memories and asking us to partake in a small amount of audience participation, challenging us to remember certain specific moments of our own lives, aided by a few props. While the audience is distracted we have our first segue: Abdalla becomes Omar, who is watching the show and is mortified that his phone has gone off, but answers it in the hope it will be his partner Alice (Eileen Walsh), who mysteriously disappeared following her mother’s funeral.

So begins the dual narrative story: one focuses on Omar and Alice, and the latter’s journey to discovering the father she never knew following the death of her mother; the other tells us about Ötzi the iceman, who was discovered in the Alps during a glacier melt in 1991 and who turned out to be some 5,000 years old. His discovery led to a subsequent argument between countries about who ‘owned’ him and disagreement between experts about who he was and how he died. Ötzi’s story is not only fascinating, but it’s also true – we’ve enjoyed reading a bit more about him since seeing the show.

The two narratives – which do eventually intertwine – both explore similar themes: we consider the importance of remembering and, equally important, of forgetting; how our memories are selective in what we can recall and the reasons for this; the values we attach to certain memories; how our minds can play tricks on us; how, ultimately, our characters are shaped by the stories we know; we are defined by how much we understand about how we got to where we currently are.

We thoroughly enjoyed our evening with Mnemonic – we’re aware that a more conceptual theatre style won’t be for everyone (this certainly isn’t one for a feelgood Friday night outing) but it’s a gripping, compelling play nonetheless. There’s an elegant simplicity in the way this is presented: it’s an intelligent play which is thoughtful and provocative, yet never feels too smart for its own good, remaining accessible throughout. We’re very glad they’ve brought it back.

GAY TIMES gives Mnemonic – 4/5

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