I was attracted by the title of this performance piece and chiefly by its synopsis: “As her father descends into Alzheimer’s, Tina tries to uncover the facts behind a family story that never rang true”. I guess I was envisaging an intriguing investigation revealing the truth about a mysterious family skeleton in the closet, perhaps a detective story along the lines of Rob Gee’s ingenious dementia piece Forget-Me-Not. I imagined Tina’s father spilling tell-tale beans as his psychological defences fell away.
It was disconcerting to find that actually there was little about her father, little about Alzheimer’s, the “story” was more an interpretation of an incident (in which, as Tina says, “nothing really happened”) remembered differently by different family members and there were not really any new facts to be gleaned about it. (That is not to say that a small incident cannot have a lifelong impact.)
A more accurate synopsis might be: Tina Sederholm gives an entertaining autobiographical account, with comic anecdotes and purple patches, of her life to date (from equestrian eventer to performance poet), with a focus on psychological healing, the need to “rewrite the story hidden inside of me”, and the contributions failures can make to success.
As such, it went down very well with the audience. Many were of the same generation, had shared a similar sort of upbringing (when the parental answer to “why?” was “because I said so”) and her experiences resonated with them. She is a pretty good storyteller, varying the rhythm as she moves from poetic language (eg “the air syrupy with heat and the scent of roses”) to humorous self-deprecating disparaging epigrams about the value of poetry (“some interesting language but no-one understands it”) or the fate of a poet (“an incurable syndrome”, “wild fantasy and intermittent depression”, “debt, insanity or promiscuity”). She is also a pretty good actress, and represented her three-year-old self convincingly, on the beach with her bucket and spade.
Personally, I found her story too Tina-centric. There was a lack of warmth of feeling expressed for any other individual, apart from her three year old self. For instance, she spoke with impatient distaste rather than sympathy of her deceased mother-in-law’s hobby room filled with ribbons and felts and sewing patterns and knitting needles as a “dusty desiccated cave of thwarted creative dreams”. Although both her parents were clearly of significant importance in her life, she spoke of them as influences rather than as people, so that I left the auditorium feeling the event had been more like a therapy session than a storytelling.
That said, the audience enjoyed sharing her journey with her, found plenty in her story to recognise in their own, plenty of interesting epigrammatic observations to relish, and plenty of occasions for sympathetic laughter.