Things Easily Forgotten (Southbank Centre)

Catalan artist Xavier Bobés’ intimate piece for the London International Mime Festival explores memory and identity

Things Easily Forgotten runs at the Southbank Centre until 24th February
Things Easily Forgotten runs at the Southbank Centre until 24th February

A few years ago, Xavier Bobes found a diary in a flea market. Small, green and leathery, it dates back to 1942. On the first page, the one with spaces for your name, address, phone number and so on, are the words: Cosas que se olvidan fácilmente. Things easily forgotten.

It’s an idea Bobes picks up on in all sorts of ways in this tabletop piece for five. Using all manner of tiny mementos – themselves things easily forgotten – he goes in search of lost time, taking us back to the Spain of the second world war.

Peeling through a stack of playing card calendars, he rewinds the years: 2016, 2015, 2014… Now and then, he floats an ‘Hola’ magazine underneath our noses; Spanish royalty waving off the front cover – Felipe VI, Juan Carlos, General Franco. Keyrings mark major events: the ’92 Olympics, the ’64 European Championship. Currency changes. The Sagrada Famíla doesn’t. There are small posters and flags, ration books and photographs of soldiers goose-stepping through the streets. 1944…1943…1942.

Bobes is part croupier, part tabletop magician: dealing out history, but also bringing it back to life. It’s a transporting experience, one that involves all the senses: music crackles from scratched vinyl, sherry sticks to your tastebuds, the smoke from birthday candles gets up your nose. It’s like scoffing madeleine after madeleine after madeleine – but conjuring someone else’s memories.

It’s a welcome reminder that history is made of everyday lives, not just momentous events. It’s built up of birthday parties and football matches, first dates and marriages and children. There are so many here, object after object, photograph after photograph, that you can hardly keep up, let alone keep every single thing in mind. We are all, every one of us, easily forgotten.

But we forget easily too – and our everyday lives can lose sight of history. In taking back to a time when Spain was gripped by facism, when Franco forged an alliance with Hitler, Bobes coaxes us into asking what people forgot in 1942. More pressingly – and this is the brilliance of the piece – he persuades us to ask the same question of our own time. With extremism swirling about Europe, Things Easily Forgotten serves a reminder from history – lest we forget.

Things Easily Forgotten runs at the Southbank Centre until 24th February.