This review has now been published in The Psychologist (July, 2014, p. 552)
Do you know what confabulation means?
asks Martha, clinical neuropsychologist, working with patients with amnesia,
It’s telling stories to ourselves to make sense of the world. There’s no single part of the brain that is ‘us’.
So begins Nick’s Payne’s stunning piece, Incognito. From this scene, between Martha, and new friend Patricia, we’re introduced to Henry, M. who, following brain surgery, lives continually in the present. Then there is Dr. Harvey, pathologist, who is building his life’s work around detailed study of Einstein’s brain. And then there are those who surround these characters, trying to make sense of them, as they make sense of the memories.
Four actors and 23 characters. Characters whose stories are introduced in fragmented scenes, that shift backwards and forwards in time, and across time. The effect is an incredible and engaging meta-journey, as we try to piece the characters lives back together, to recreate their stories in our own minds.
There is real Psychology in this. Any self-respecting Psychology graduate, myself included, will know the case of H.M. who lost his memory following surgery to correct epilepsy. They will dutifully have studied the role of the medial temporal lobes and hippocampus in memory. But that is textbook. Nick Payne moves expertly away from this towards a human story of memory. As the play is performed almost in the round, the audience is frighteningly close to the devastating emotional consequences – both of having memories one no longer wants – and of not having memories anymore – portrayed movingly (without sentimentality) by a cast that click together beautifully, even as their characters are in constant flux.
This is a brilliant study of the fragility of the human mind, – of how memories shape our relationships and our selves. It is also philosophy: what is it after all, that is being studied?
Incognito written by Nick Payne, directed by Joe Murphy, and performed by Nabokov, is showing at the North Wall Arts Centre until Saturday 10th May 2014. There are two performances left, and I’d heartily recommend that you see it. If there are any tickets left that is – it deserves to be sold out.