Thursday, May 21, 2015


"You have to remember that most people lead very humdrum lives." That was a comment Peter Mandelson threw out to justify New Labour's continuation of the Conservative government's Millennium Dome project in a contrived 1999 TV documentary. He went on to say that people deserved the opportunity to have one extraordinary experience in life, which the Dome would provide. It was a perfect example of elite condescension.

At the time, I swore at the TV. Now I would tell Mandelson to go and see New Perspectives' production of my old friend Tim Elgood's latest play, Unforgettable. It welcomes us into ordinariness. The stage is set with respectably fashionable furniture from the early sixties, and we enter into the action through the aftermath of a subdued, suburban funeral with a finger buffet of indifferent vol-au-vents and sherry served from a cut glass decanter. We meet a brother and sister, Jed and Rosie, both in their sixties, both moderate failures, unexceptional in many ways. They are the only characters. And slowly they draw you into their world, a world that is both banal and beautiful.

The play hinges on Jed and Rosie's decision to care for their mother who has Alzheimer's, but it isn't really about dementia. And though the main theme explores the complexity of their relationship, this isn't the whole story either. The play is a tragicomedy. So is life. No life can have a happy ending and all must end. As the play repeats often, life is too short. Negotiating it is difficult. Yet we laugh and enjoy ourselves for as long as we can. We must.

Tim's gift as a writer is his ability to show that the prosaic is profound and there is an emotional intensity to the play, brought out by the fine acting and intelligent direction. He writes with affection, but without sentimentality. He never preaches. And the story that reveals itself as the evening progresses is one that we recognise as, in essence, our own.

Obviously given the subject matter, the play explores the nature of memory, especially through the use of evocative music, but what I found most compelling was the way that Unforgettable was a meditation on kindness. Even if it is masked by an acid, and wickedly funny, tongue, kindness is the unifying principle that held Jed and Rosie together, as it does us all. And this is what made me think of Mandelson. The reduction of the passions of life, death, birth, love and human kindness to a "humdrum" existence that can be elevated by a day out in a giant, corporate-sponsored plastic tent, is demeaning. This play is a complete rebuttal.

I enjoyed the jokes, found the humour cathartic, but was deep in thought by the end. It is a sympathetic and sensitive portrayal of ordinary lives facing difficult and common dilemmas that engages its audience on several levels. Those lives are important, those experiences intense. And as I left the theatre and strolled to the pub, still gripped by the emotional power of the play, I couldn't help thinking that the experience of seeing Unforgettable was so, well, memorable.

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