The only good news is that things can only get better after this, though the extremely high calibre of the artists that the company has managed to attract should also be noted, as should the fact that their make-up, too, immediately throws down the gauntlet of the exchange of talent the company hopes to foster between their twin bases in London and New York. Four of the seven actors have been specially imported from the US, joined by three highly accomplished British actors.
Sadly, they've been marooned in a stubbornly feeble, unfunny vehicle that Mendes has, perhaps wisely, declined to direct himself but entrusted instead to Angus Jackson. If anything, it simply amplifies the multiple disappointments to see so many good actors wrestling valiantly with the preposterously overblown characterisations and situations they've been thrown into. David Lindsay-Abaire has written more of a cartoon farce than a fully-realised play, constantly tipping its hat (and winking an eye) to the audience about how zany it all is, but succeeding only in being almost constantly wearying.
In a twisted version of Groundhog Day-like logic, the lead character Claire (Katie Finneran) has been doomed, for the past two years, to begin each day with a clean memory slate. She's suffering from what's referred to as 'psychogenic amnesia', and so, after she wakes up every day, she has to re-learn who she is and who those around her are, too. We soon discover why she might prefer to forget.
As Lindsay-Abaire re-introduces Claire (and us) to her husband Richard (Nicholas Le Prevost) and drug-taking dyslexic son Kenny (John Gallagher Jr), then stages a 'kidnap' that has a man, referred to in the programme simply as 'Limping Man' (Tim Hopper), spirit her away with his fellow ex-con friend Millet (and puppet Mr Binky, both of them played by Matthew Lillard) to meet her stroke-victim mother Gertie (Julia McKenzie), I soon wished we'd been left in the dark, too.
There's nothing funny or original in any of these encounters, let alone with a policewoman (Charlotte Randle) who pulls Richard and Kenny aside when they're trying to find the missing Claire. In fact there's something sad in encountering quite so many variously damaged people on one stage, but, with the exception of McKenzie's language-scrambling mother, who superbly registers her character's frustration at not being able to communicate effectively, there's nothing very truthful here either.
I'm afraid that the inevitable, but perhaps strangely appropriate, verdict on this play about amnesia is that I'd rather forget it.
- Mark Shenton
NOTE: The following FIVE-STAR review dates from April 2004 and this prouduction's initial dates at Birmingham Rep.
Short-term memory loss has become something of a popular topic in recent years, from 2000 film Memento to Adam Sandler's latest hit 50 First Dates, but then they do say there are actually only seven original stories in the world.
Now the piece has its European premiere in Birmingham, under the direction of Angus Jackson before a transfer to the West End's Arts Theatre, and if you only make one trip to London this year – make sure this play is on the itinerary.
Claire wakes each morning to a series of revelations; she has no idea that she dislikes juice, her husband doesn't drink coffee, or that she loses her memory every night. She suffers from psychogenic amnesia, and although she is capable of retaining vast amounts of information during the day, she forgets everything when she sleeps.
When a limping, lisping, half-blind, half-deaf, facially-disfigured ex-convict appears from under her bed, introduces himself as her brother and says the man she thinks is her husband wants to kill her, Claire's day of unearthing her story begins – as does a two-hour roller coaster of hilarious antics and heartbreaking poignancy in a world where nothing is what it appears and no one is who they seem.
Claire sets off in search of her life, meeting a series of eccentric characters - including a claustrophobic policewoman, another ex-con who can only express himself through his alter-ego (a sock puppet), and her own mother, whose speech is severely impaired through a stroke. All with husband Richard (Nicholas Le Prevost) and angst-ridden teenage son Kenny (John Gallagher Jnr) in frantic and dope-fuelled pursuit.
Tony Award winner Katie Finneran brings a convincing bewilderment and real sense of discovery to Claire, and as the horror of the trauma which caused her amnesia is revealed, she takes every member of the audience with her.
But this is an ensemble piece with brilliant performances all round: Julia MacKenzie's Gertie, frustrated at her loss of normal speech and trying desperately to communicate her mixed-up words to her daughter; Matthew Lillard's achingly vulnerable Millet, conversing with and clinging onto his puppet as he learns the truth behind his own tragedy; Gallagher pleading with his newly-discovered mother in the final moments of the play to stay awake just a few minutes more. Hollywood's Scooby Doo star Lillard in particular lights up the stage with magnetic presence and an illuminating performance.
Captivating and utterly compelling theatre. And definitely not forgotten overnight.
- Elizabeth Ferrie