Sophie is helping Tom into his socks. He is waiting for his mother to bring him a birthday cake. But Tom is not a toddler. He is 55 today and he has dementia. Sophie cannot see what is going on inside Tom’s head, but we can. As he touches the garments hanging on the pair of clothes rails, the feel of the fabric takes him to other times and places. The clothing rails swish apart like a pair of stage curtains, and Tom’s story is brought to life before our eyes.
Theatre Re have created an unforgettably poignant piece of theatre. Tom’s story is suggested, rather than told, through a tumultuous series of memories of incidents, experiences and emotions, all depicted with vitality and physicality in a tightly choreographed whirlwind of action, light and sound.
The soundtrack is amazing. It plays a huge part in the vivification of the nature of different kinds of memory and forgetting. There is low, ominous panic-stricken discord; triumphant music in major chords; lingering sweet, sad glockenspiel notes; random, tinny, rattling tinkling; the distortion of abrupt acceleration and deceleration; sounds of a radio flicking between channels, or a radio signal flickering in and out of tune; evoking in turn the sensations of powerful, overwhelming, painful, fleeting, joyful, anguished or elusive memories.
Although Theatre Re spent many months investigating dementia, exploring both academic research and real human experience, they insist that 'ultimately, our piece is not about dementia' but about Thornton Wilder’s 'something, way down deep that’s eternal ...what’s left when memory is gone'. The memory may have gone but the experience, though inaccessible, is still there, perhaps all the stronger for lying rooted below consciousness. Tom still feels in his bones the exhilarating freedom of wheeling along on his bicycle with the wind in his hair and his girl by his side, the thrills of their teenage teasing and tickling, the anguish of guilt from his loss. All this is played out in a gripping, haunting, entertaining non-stop flurry of dance and mime, not wordless but the words are snatches of sound, blurred echoes.
The final conclusion, with Tom’s emotional exhaustion visible in his face, is evoked by two inspired and heartbreaking images: the empty hangers on the two clothing rails and the two candles on the birthday cake blown out, leaving him in empty darkness. Sadly, this was the last performance of the tour. Afterwards the audience queued up to shower the company with their appreciation of this brilliant five-star piece of theatre. Fortunately, there are still several video excerpts on YouTube, which give a lovely impression of this exquisite work.