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The Nature of Forgetting. Photo: Danilo Moroni

The Nature of Forgetting - An Interview with composer Alex Judd

17 April 2018 Suzanne Frost

Following a sell-out run at the 2017 London International Mime Festival, Theatre Re approach the science of dementia with a powerful, explosive and joyous piece of physical theatre. Alex Judd worked as the composer on the show that tries to capture the experience of someone loosing memory and the people around him loosing a familiar person.

London Calling: In your own words, what is the show about?
Alex Judd: The Nature of Forgetting is a physical theatre piece with a live musical score that portrays what is left when memory is gone.
 
LC: And all of it is told through mime, physical performance, almost dance
AJ: It’s a combination of physical theatre and mime as the underpinning technique that the performers use. There’s a lot of movement in the show and a lot of music as well.
 
LC: Words are not necessary to portray emotion or to tell a story.
AJ: Absolutely. That’s one of the things I find personally interesting about performing this piece: because of a lack of dialogue in the show it gives me as a composer a lot of space to contextualise with music and to help the audience to feel emotion in the show through the music and through the movement on stage rather than just text. It leaves a lot of room for the audience to use their imagination a bit more because it is not very explicit. The show has a universal language of images, we can take it abroad and people will still understand it.

 The Nature of Forgetting. Photo: Danilo Moroni

LC: And you worked with a neuroscientist who explained to you what a memory is or how a memory is put together.
AJ: We worked with a UCL neuroscientist, Professor Kate Jeffery, almost from the very beginning, she was one of the main collaborators and she explained what actually happens in the brain when we forget. She watched what we were doing as the piece developed and gave us feedback on whether it was an accurate portrayal of the science. It’s an unusual medium for that but it is scientifically solid.
 
LC: Apparently short-term memory is affected first whereas your childhood memories stay very vivid for the longest time
AJ: That’s something we learned from her and that’s what we try to convey in the show. From my own personal experience, my grandparents both had dementia and they would talk very vividly about their memories from 70 or 80 years ago as if it happened last week, but then events that happened last week they couldn’t recall at all. In the show, the later memories of our main character are the ones that kind of fragment and break apart.
 
LC: Living with dementia patients, we sometimes get frustrated because they are behaving unreasonable or like children but maybe that’s where they are at that moment, in their childhood.
AJ: Absolutely, I had that same feeling of frustration. Dementia is such a common thing; everyone has either a direct family member who has that condition or knows someone who has. The show touches a lot of people because so many people have experienced those feelings of frustration.

 The Nature of Forgetting. Photo: Danilo Moroni

LC: People with dementia really respond to music, which must be interesting for you as a composer.
AJ: That was a really interesting part of the research and development. We interviewed people with dementia and their carers examining that really strong link between music and memory. That’s something I try to put across in my performance on stage. Music is so important for memory, there are such strong connotations with notes from our past.
 
LC: Smell works in a similar way; it can take you back in a very intuitive way. Maybe those sensory experienced forgo words.
AJ: In the show, there are certain triggers; it begins with the main character Tom getting dressed for his 56th birthday party. There’s a clothes rack and he touches the clothes and certain fabrics or certain colours then trigger memories from his past.
 
LC: When we talk about forgetting, it’s not necessarily that those memories are forgotten; they are just shuffled around and tangled up.
AJ: One of the things the audience will see in the show is there are some memories that are very clear, and then there are those that are still there in the back of Tom’s mind but they are starting to change, he is struggling to piece them together, they are starting to fragment. Something that I convey in the music as well, the reoccurring motifs and themes in the music also start to fragment and break up to portray that process of forgetting.
 
LC: I once saw a talk show where a patient described her experience of dementia and she could see herself multiple times at different ages all at once, as if she was watching a show. So maybe theatre is actually a good medium to make that visible.
AJ: We use minimal props to create metaphors for those moments in Tom’s life he is trying to recreate, it is him playing back memories of his life and viewing himself in various different stages from a child to a young father to where he is now. He is playing it back like a movie. From the scientific aspect, theatre may be an unusual medium but it helps the audience to make that connection to their own life and create empathy.
 
The Nature of Forgetting is at Shoreditch Town Hall 24 – 28 April
 
 
 
 
 
 
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