Review: Mnemonic

Carl Wikeley 18 May 2016

For a show called Mnemonic, there was little about actual memory. This contemporary piece showcased some successful naturalistic acting, together with interestingly designed, almost-symmetrical staging, however an overall confused effect resulted from the non-naturalistic sequencing and lack of focus.

Mnemonic purports to offer insight into the fascinating area of memory and thought, with an opening naturalistic monologue explaining various pseudo-scientific concepts. The show then consisted of a lengthy exploration of various fragmentary tableaux allegorising the split of a young couple, and the woman’s journey to discover her ancestry through her long-lost Lithuanian father. The allegory came from intersecting segments about the discovery of an ‘Iceman’, thousands of years old and frozen in the Tyrol mountains – certainly an interesting topic, however a visit to the ‘Tollund Man’ (the original ‘Iceman’, found in Denmark) might have been more interesting. Quite how this matches up with the contemporary narrative is not fully realised.

The play demands highly naturalistic acting, clearly an appealing style for contemporary actors, however the issue with Mnemonic is that this fails to reconcile this with a highly fragmentary and non-naturalistic narrative – clearly intended to mimic the illogical nature of memory, as was highlighted in the opening monologue.

There were pleasing moments as a result of the interesting staging and acting, including particularly strong performances from Martha Murphy and Elise Hagan, each showing off their respective consummate control of a variety of accents and languages. Furthermore, projections and lighting was generally used to good effect, although various moments of fading-to-black did seem to jar with the overall sequencing of events.

The real problem was the material itself, although one cannot entirely acquit the cast and crew of responsibility; a good standard of acting, direction and design is expected, however the choice of play is just as significant. Although Complicite are a renowned company, the original script failed to be realised on the ADC stage. A shame then, that the good acting talents on show tonight were largely wasted with Mnemonic.

The script itself was awash with maxims and pseudo-science, resulting in a mildly diverting experience, much like that of a badly-curated art exhibition, and one that was also confused and in the end failed to say anything. If art doesn’t say anything, then surely it must be entertaining. Sadly, while its technical aspects were well-handled, Mnemonic lacked focus and emotional weight.