This Is Memorial Device

The Riverside Studios in Hammersmith often offers some off-beat entertainment and has a fringe-y feel in its studio spaces. Tonight’s performance definitely follows this pattern – in spades!

This is a Memorial Device is based on the novel of the same name by David Keenan, and it tells the story of a fictitious 1980s band from Airdrie with a cult following. The only live performer is Paul Higgins, playing the part of our narrator, Ross Raymond who tells us how he was there at the time, but only now gets what he was witnessing back then.

He is joined on stage by four mannequins of various shades of disturbing, who represent the four members of the band. Higgins brings them to life with skill, by playing their instruments and with subtle movements as the story unfolds. There are additional performances by way of video and voice recordings, which bring some light relief to the disturbing intensity we are feeling in the auditorium.

It's the character of Lucas, the lead singer, who emerges as the central character. Lucas has experienced several episodes of mental ill health and has little to no long term memory. His way round this is to keep extensive notes of his day, on the basis that he’s likely to remember very little of it the next day. Some of the notes make sense, many don’t. This offers us some bizarre hallucinatory moments that I’m still trying to process. Ross has discovered Lucas’ note book and tells the story of what happened.

It's hard to say what happened. The overriding sense we have at the end is that either, we’ve seen the most brilliant piece of theatre ever, or we’ve witnessed the parade of the emperor’s new clothes. There are audience members who are clearly enjoying the local references to Airdrie, which others of us simply don’t get. It’s like the reverse experience of a touring comedian doing the research on the next local town so that they can make their set local and relevant. I can imagine an Airdrie audience lapping up the humour. It’s clearly trying to say something about mental health and memory loss, but I’m not sure what.

It's fair to say that there are some clever approaches to the production. The weaving of sound, visuals and lighting all help to create an atmosphere. Higgin’s performance is certainly compelling – even if we don’t really get what the performance was about!

It’s fair to say that if you’re a fan of 80s experimental music (think punk merging into the New Romantics!), if you’re someone who embraced the fanzine culture of the time, if you’re a fan of the bizarre and surreal, then this is the play for you! Sadly, I fall into none of these categories, so it’s hard to connect with this particular story. Perhaps that says more about me than the performance, but for me, part of the art of theatre is to engage an audience, no matter what their experience is. I’m not sure that This is a Memorial Device is going to live on long in my memory.

This show was reviewed on the 26th April 2024 at the Riverside Studios, London where it runs until the 11th May 2024.  Tickets available here: This Is Memorial Device | Riverside Studios

Review written by Ian Worsfold


Photo credit: Mihaela Bodlovic

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