Art and science collide with mesmerising effect in Analogue’s latest production, which is inspired by a true story. In 1953, at the age of 27, Henry Molaison underwent experimental brain surgery in an attempt to cure his epilepsy. He emerged without the ability to form new memories and went on to become “the world’s most famous amnesiac” and a living case study for the advancement of theories in cognitive neuropsychology.
Two years ago, the brain of the late Molaison – Patient HM – was dissected live online (watched by some 400,000 people) into the “2401 objects” of the title, carefully preserved slices now being housed and examined at The Brain Observatory in San Diego, under the direction of Dr Jacopo Annese.
It’s a fascinating story and Analogue tell it in this three-hander – written by Hannah Barker, Liam Jarvis (who also direct) and Lewis Hetherington, devised and performed by Melody Grove, Pieter Lawman and Sebastien Lawson – as part lecture, part memory play. The illusory and transitory nature of the latter enhanced by Anike Sedello’s set, a mesh screen that displays flickering images, deepens distances, and rolls and spins to sweep up scenes and characters.
Both of the male actors play Henry, one pre- and the other post-operation, while Grove portrays the three women in his life: a girl-next-door romantic interest, a nurse and his mother, who he asks for daily for years because he can’t retain the knowledge of her death.
The impact of the human story, the tragedy that a few knife slices wielded on one man and those he loved, is never fully felt, but as we place our hands on our own heads and contemplate the precious cargo of memories and knowledge held within, we’re asked to be thankful for our own functioning hippocampi – and the gratitude is much more keenly felt having seen this show.