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Short Memory (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: Short Memory

Society: West End & Fringe

Venue: Golden Goose Theatre. 146 Camberwell New Road, Camberwell, London SE5 0RR

Credits: By Richard Roque. Featuring a live choir performance every night!

Short Memory

3 stars

All photos: Miles Elliott:


This is a play which links choral singing, Alzheimer’s and hedge funds. So you can’t fault its originality. As someone who sang in a choral society for thirty years and nursed a spouse through Alzheimer’s I recognised and identified with the truth much of it although it’s clumsily didactic when it gets to the hedge funds. I don’t go to the theatre for lengthy lectures about share dealing.

Nancy (Janet Behan) and Adam (Peter Saracen) have been married for a long time. Their hobby and social life is the local choral society. It’s an interesting idea to have a small choir present with their accompanist. They stand, dressed in black on stage as if at a concert, and sing fragments of Messiah. It would have been easy to do this with recordings (and there’s some of that in the production too) and it’s interesting decision to do it live. They’re not always in tune or on time but that may be deliberate – they are meant to be an amateur group, after all.

Grandson Simon (James Fletcher) comes to one of their concerts and meets Jack (Dan Wolff) a tenor in the choir with whom he goes on to have a relationship. There’s a very beautiful scene in which they make love to the sound of Zadok the Priest (recorded not sung live). Meanwhile Gerald (Jonathan Hansler) rarely supports his son or parents because he’s too busy making money out of hedge funds and getting through serial marriages – until it all goes wrong.

The catalyst is Adam developing Alzheimer’s – at first losing his way in sentences but, of course, remembering every word and note of “Messiah”. Gradually he develops the all too familiar vacant look which Saracen gets very well. And I was warmly aware that Roques really does understand what Alzheimer’s involves and that’s rare. We see, for example Saracen get shaky on his feet and at one point Simon has to help him in the lavatory because there’s been an “accident” and they’re at a concert so Nancy can’t go into the gents to sort him out. Very accurately portrayed – as I know all too well.

Janet Behan gives a fine performance as a loving wife initially in denial – shouting Simon and Jack down when they try to get her to admit something is wrong. Then she morphs (the action of the play covers six years) into a stoical coper – another position I indentify with, especially when she breaks down in exhaustion and, crying, tells Simon and Jack that she can’t manage alone except that she does – determined to keep her husband at home.

Underneath all this is a plot twist involving Gerald and something his mother tells him which changes everything but no spoilers here.

It’s an enjoyable and moving play with much to admire but it should be 15 minutes shorter with all the attempts to explain the mechanics of hedge funds to Nancy cut back substantially. And why does the choir keep singing the same few bars of Worthy is the Lamb? Is it to suggest the repetitiveness of what’s happening in Adam’s head? If so it’s over subtle.

First published by Sardines: https://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/review/short-memory/

Author information
Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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