Mnemonic ★★★★★ National Theatre | Jun 22 - Aug 10, 2024


You are not likely to forget Mnemonic. This is a brilliantly original show initially produced 25 years ago. Conceived and directed by Simon McBurney and devised by the Complicité theatrical company, this latest version at the National Theatre has been reimagined for 2024, and it brings an interesting perspective to current political issues such as the migrant crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The piece starts with almost a lecture on the nature of memory and then undertakes an interesting audience experiment that tests the capacity for individual recall. It then maps the description of how memory works onto a history of human evolution and a narrative about a broken love affair. We are taken back to the discovery of the iceman, Ötzi, and the irony of national governments arguing over the "ownership" of someone who lived in a pre-nation state world. This is later paralleled by a wonderfully comic moment when members of an international scholarly panel seek to define and reduce the Neolithic man from the perspective of their various academic disciplines. In contrast to this obsessive need to control the past is the story of "Egyptian" Omar and "Irish" Alice. She leaves him and goes on a quest to understand her family history in order to find herself. However, seeking to learn about her father and to follow her complex genealogy leads her to discover her Jewish heritage and poses some interesting questions about the symbolism of the couple's relationship. Eventually, overwhelmed by her guide's incessant chatter, Alice abandons her quest in Bolzano where Ötzi now resides. Her journey's end takes us back to a shared beginning. The Complicité company does a superb job of creating a wide variety of completely credible characters, and the actors flow seamlessly from one into the other. The choreography has a wonderful fluidity, and an amazingly adaptable chair takes on a life of its own.  Mnemonic is a seriously ambitious undertaking which challenges the audience on many fronts, and it certainly gets the synapses connecting. If it has a weakness, it might be the pitfall often faced by collaborative creative efforts. Without a clear authorial hand, too much can be attempted and focus can be scattered. Nevertheless, this is unforgettable theatre beautifully executed.

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo Johan Persson

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