Our world runs on memory. Computers hoover up our personal data and harbour our personal histories. Social media, search engines and streaming services keep records of our every curiosity and click. Companies note the products we buy and the adverts that sucker us in. Our presents are increasingly built from our pasts. The world reflects us back at ourselves.
If Gruff Theatre gets that, it isn't given due weight in this wildly over-ambitious site-specific show. Staged in the empty office floor taken over by the New Diorama last year, It Made Me Consider Me imagines a vaguely futuristic corporation dedicated to storing our memories. In R.A.L.P.H’s server banks – the arbitrary acronym only reflects the colossal ego of its over-zealous, rollerblading CEO Ralph (Rhy Slade-Jones) – you’ll find the stuff of people’s pasts. Some of it’s the forgettable fluff outsourced for safe-keeping – a nice bus driver’s kindly smile or a fond childhood holiday. Some of it’s the sort you just can’t shake off – the traumas and heartbreaks that are best forgotten.
We’re there on a mini-tour for potential recruits – each given a random name badge that, disarmingly, makes you feel as though you’ve forgotten yourself – and shepherded around an empty office building by the ever-cheery Head of HR Sue (Cordelia Stevenson). Two memory archivists, a dim junior and his speccy superior, take us through the machines: those that extract, export and expunge assorted memories and keep them on file for a century or more. Mostly, it means speed-walking through a tangle of unremarkable corridors lined with air conditioning units and computer servers, while being bombarded with vaguely fantastical techno-babble.
Only there are signs that something’s awry. Thomas Bostock’s bearded technician scuttles around in the background with a load of red tape, a few employees have gone missing and an elegant woman dressed up in red stalks the halls, at odds with this blank corporate environment. Memories, it seems, have lives of their own.
Leaning heavily on the contrast between soulless corporations and personal identity, It Made Me Consider Me never really drills into its subject. R.A.L.P.H. clearly has its roots in big data-farming outfits – not least in its deranged fantasist of a founder – but it refuses to take that set-up seriously. Instead, Gruff opts for silly surrealism every time with operatic office oddballs and gameshow-style tangents.
The results swings between a 'You Don’t Have to be Mad to Work Here…' greetings card and something more vaguely philosophical – albeit indebted to sci-fi staples like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Total Recall. Its warning about the allure of nostalgia is intriguing, but nothing musters the woozy delirium of, say, Shunt’s best shows and Gruff feel adrift in a cavernous space that Laura Orawski’s shoestring designs simply can’t fill. It’s hard to shake the fact that this super-rich enterprise has five employees and a lot of dead space. The whole thing is best forgotten – and fast.
It Made Me Consider Me runs at the New Diorama until 21 February.