Memory Palace

Andy Crowe, Aoife Connolly and Andrea Scott in Bluepatch Productions' 'Memory Palace.'

Andy Crowe, Aoife Connolly and Andrea Scott in Bluepatch Productions' 'Memory Palace.'

Bluepatch’s Memory Palace is an experimental, experiential meditation on the protective, encrypting functions of memory. Appropriating Greek mythology, the piece imagines the Amazonian queen Hippolyta’s posthumous meeting with Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. Encouraged by Mnemosyne (here called Mimi) to remember, Hippolyta (here called Lottie) struggles with her repression of how she stormed her former husband’s wedding to Phaedra. Memory Palace explores how we hide traumatic experiences from ourselves. It reminds us that, although the ephemeral nature an event may allow us to forget it, tangible traces inevitably remain.

Bluepatch staged a cyclical dream world, composed of what seemed initially to be incongruous fragments: sounds, images and objects. While Aoife Connolly (playing Lottie) sat centre-stage draped in white fabric spread widely and beautifully across the floor, images were projected on a screen behind her. The photographs (by Tamsyn Speight and Joanne Murray) and their arrangement were cumulatively evocative. Deliberately ambiguous at first, the pictures progressed towards clearer associations with romance and weddings. Each scene of the drama was a revised repetition, at the end of which an object – a clue – was attached to a string and suspended at eye level. Hence, the audience accompanied Lottie on her anxious journey towards revelation, gradually piecing together the vestiges of her painful experience.

Playing Faye (Phaedra), Andrea Scott inhabited the role of an irritatingly gleeful bride with ease. Skipping around the stage, her giddy energy was in stark opposition to Connolly’s sedate bewilderment, rooted to a seat centre-stage throughout the performance. Her stationary position could have curtailed a passionate performance. However, while Connolly’s facial expressions subtly conveyed Lottie’s frustration, occasionally her body took on a fitful jerking, vigorously dramatising the character’s inner conflict.

Along with changes in lighting, Aisling Quinn’s soulful, romantic notes punctuated the work’s repetitive sequences. She sang a 1920s standard famously performed by artists such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and, more recently, Kate Bush: all surely influences on Quinn’s own melodic, crooning style. The song, ‘The Man I Love’, was aptly chosen; its hopeful lyrics were tragically at odds with the play’s subject. Distorted recordings of Quinn’s rendition of the song were also played sporadically to enhance the production’s dreamlike quality.

Through language, dramatic structure, movement and visual allusion, this work collapses time’s apparent linearity. During the opening moments, Lottie looked into the audience and announced “you’re here”. Mimi’s response came from behind the viewers: “I’ve always been here, since before.” As well as penetrating the fourth wall through the positioning of the actors, this exchange illuminated the vagueness of such temporal references as ‘always’ and ‘before’. The actors occasionally moved in slow-motion. Some dialogue and moments of silence were accompanied by a ticking sound. These features intensified the production’s contemplation of time.

By combining a variety of artistic elements, Memory Palace reaches beyond an exploration of memory and identity. The drama’s progression resembles the completion of a puzzle, linking objects, signs and traces to piece together buried memories. In doing so, it imaginatively examines the interconnections of dreams, symbolism and representation itself. This collaborative ensemble has created intelligent, truly inspiring theatre.

Siobhán O’Gorman is currently completing a doctoral research project on gender and the canon in contemporary theatre at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Memory Palace by Jane Madden and creative team

26 – 27 October 2010

Produced by Bluepatch Productions
In Nuns Island Theatre, Galway

Set, lighting and costume: a collaborative effort

Visual Artists: Tamsyn Speight and Joanne Murray

Music: Aisling Quinn

With: Aoife Connolly, Andy Crowe and Andrea Scott