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Theatre review Not somebody that I used to know

WILL STONE gets a little lost in a play about memory that misremembers another production of itself

National Theatre, London


MEMORY is a fascinating thing. How is it that we can remember what we did on New Year’s Eve last year but most of us will struggle to recall what we were doing on Wednesday evening two weeks ago?

Big occasions like new year, birthdays and holidays act like mnemonics, something that aids memory, which is usually associated with rhymes, patterns or acronyms such as ROYGBIV for the colours of the rainbow.

This and other foods for thought to get our synapses flaring are presented to us by Khalid Abdalla in a participatory prelude to Complicite’s much-anticipated revived/reimagined/re-remembered production of Mnemonic. 

We are asked to don eye masks and feel the veins of a dried leaf while contemplating the nature of ancestry, migration and our existence. 

Suddenly our compelling lesson segues into two narrative threads. Khalid becomes Omar, who is seeking answers after his partner Alice (Eileen Walsh) disappears following her mother’s funeral. She, in turn, is on the hunt for her estranged father.

The other is based on the real life discovery of Otzi The Iceman, whose 5,210-year remains are found preserved in ice in 1991 at the Italian-Austrian border, and follows the furore this created within the scientific community in their futile attempts to make sense of who he might have been. 

So, narrative is very much the operative word, given that it’s the narratives we give our own lives that shape our stories — our pasts, presents and futures — none of which are based on any quantifiable fact. Who are we all really? If you take our memory away we would have to find ourselves a new narrative.

In this sense, when the two seemingly polar opposite stories converge, there’s an inspiring point to be made about interconnectedness and the undeniable truth that the further we go back the more related we find ourselves.

The original production of Mnemonic, itself a distant memory staged 25 years ago in 1999, and also directed by Complicite’s co-founder Simon McBurney, has been brought into 2024 for the ensemble cast with references to Covid, Brexit and Ukraine; the latter bringing the subject of migration to the forefront of our minds.

Yet at times it’s guilty of being too clever, too meta, and some will no doubt find its deeper message a little lost in its tangential presentation.

Runs until August 10. Box office: (020) 3989-5455,


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