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Living Memory

by on 29 November 2019

Ruminations on Loss

Living Memory

by Genni Trickett

Q2 at The National Archives, Kew until 30th November

Review by Melissa Syversen

I have been to a handful of site specific performances in my day but seeing a play at The National Archives in Kew is definitely a first. I live a good way away in North London but when this play and intriguing location and came my way I had to accept.

 

Fitting the nature of its venue, Living Memory is a new play about the nature of memory, how it can be saved and rediscovered after seemingly been lost. In this newly written play we meet two couples, both of whom are recovering from the loss of their child. The story takes place in the same room, but is split between two timelines. One is in the present where Jo and Jerry (Mia Skytte and Matt Tester) have just relocated to the village from London following the death of their baby. The other is Ruby and Frank (Felicity Morgan and Craig Cameron-Fisher) who in 1945 are still struggling with the loss their son who died in combat two years earlier during WW2. Lines are blurred when Jo discovers an old trunk in the attic that once belonged to Ruby.

LivMemPromo7Genni Trickett has both written and directed this piece, a double duty which is not an easy task. As a director she handles the two timelines nicely, transitions are smooth and the focus is well-balanced when characters from both timelines are on stage at the same time. Writing wise, it is more of a hit and miss. The first act could benefit from a bit of a trim. To establish the parallels between the two stories and between Jo and Ruby, scenes are essentially repeated in each timelines. This leads to a double dose of clunky exposition, and it does get repetitive. The first act is essentially over and hour of set up and no narrative drive. The second half fares better as the stakes come into play along with two new characters. Gracie (Andrea Wilkins) is Ruby’s chin-wag-loving sister-in-law and Russell (Hugh Cox) Jo’s boss … and former lover. Together they bring a new energy and interesting dynamic to the story.

Though I appreciate that rehearsal time can be tricky to come by for an adult amateur drama group, balancing as we all must, full time work, children and other obligations (and especially in the run up to the holidays!) Living Memory would have benefited from a few more hours in the rehearsal room. Not so much because the prompter had to que a few lines, that happens to the best of us. The issue is that chunks of texts are ploughed through without much intention. The dialogue is also mostly played quite literally and at face value. There are passages of dialogue that have some nice layers of subtext and it is left mostly untouched. What a person says isn’t always what they say, if you know what I mean. When you add that to the fact that characters’ motivations sometimes seem to change on the drop of a hat depending on what needs to be done within that second in order to create drama or snappy dialogue, it can create moments of genuine confusion. An example is when Jo first is shown the house after Jerry has spent ages refurbishing the old cottage. At first she excited by the thought of an attic full of things to rummage through. Then she reprimands Jerry for leaving the task of cleaning out the attic to her, but then turn back around to being excited about the trunks in the attic and what she might find. The reproach might have been intended as banter by the writer but, as it is played straight, it all just comes across as strange. That said Genni Trickett has had a fun idea for a plot and there are moments of clever execution. For instance, Jo speaking to her sister Rachel (Simone White) through speaker phone worked really well. And being an amateur dramatic group, Q2 Players has shown great theatrical ambition and bravery in staging a full length play of new writing and for that I do commend them.

LivMemPromo1

The story of Living Memory doesn’t necessarily offer much new in regards to story or character, there are plenty of tropes to be had during the two hour plus running time. However, what it does offer is a wonderfully original venue, and some lovely ruminations on the weight of grief and the pain of losing a child. Add in some quirky performances from its supporting cast and a heartfelt and hopeful ending of finding strength and comfort in each other, Living Memory does come together in the end. I just wish all of the pieces came together a bit sooner.

Melissa Syversen
November 2019

Photography by Cat Lamin

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