Best We Forget – a study of memory

Best We Forget
Best We Forget - Ellen Steele

Such is the function of memory, we are told at the top of independent theatre company isthisyours? production Best We Forget, that we may only remember 35 per cent of it tomorrow. You might hope to retain just a little more than that.

It’s an interesting topic, the act of forgetting, and that is precisely the show’s central thesis: what is forgetting, what does it matter, how does memory make us who we are? We open with, and frequently hearken back to, a panel lecture hosted by the three actors (as themselves):  Nadia Rossi, Ellen Steele, and Jude Henshall. The panel sessions are thoroughly researched and peppered with interesting quotes and statistics, though would have benefited from a looser style and structure of delivery; the banter in these sessions, which was pre-scripted, was a little stilted. It might have been better, more engaging, if looser defined and a little more improvisational.

Happily, the show develops life when it gets a little more personal. Nadia Rossi gives the show its emotional core in simple and very relatable ways, using slides of family pictures to demonstrate how others have recorded her life on her behalf – and then, in a stroke a fresh and relevant humour in our internet meme-based culture that really has given new life to graphs, by breaking down her into character into a graph form. There’s a “pointy graph” (that’s the technical term) entitled Times I’ve Cried, for example, and a pie chart for What I Think About (including universal gems like ‘do I look okay?’ and ‘how am I getting home?’) And from the roar of laughter as Rossi presented her diary and explained the poetry inside, there was plenty of her unique teenage experience that many of the theatre-goers, of a similar age to the late-twenties performers, could understand. Rossi is also responsible for the moment in the show with purest poignancy which comes, of all places, right after a comic death scene.

Ellen Steele easily takes home the biggest laughs and that’s because her shtick in this experimental piece is to liken memory and forgetting to action movies, which begins as a discussion on the co-option of serious diseases like amnesia and Alzheimer’s for Hollywood plot purposes. This somehow so naturally escalates to Steele becoming an action hero herself, stealing memories to record on her Polaroid camera. She’s the Jason Bourne of forgetting. Steele is at her best employing broad strokes and embracing physical comedy; her quieter moments get a little lost.

Jude Henshall spends much of the performance acting as facilitator of the evening’s varied shenanigans. While presenting the most informed character and the most scientific and philosophical reviews, it’s not until she sings that she comes into her own. “Forget Me Not”, is a comic song expertly delivered; the Helpmann-nominated (2010, Wizard of Oz) Henshall has a beautiful voice. While the song showcased its range and tone well, it’s a shame we couldn’t hear a little more of that vocal gift.

Only an hour long, this piece has its ups and downs, just like any sequence of memories that happen to make up a life. Keep an eye on isthisyours? – they have promise as independent theatre makers.

Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and was the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

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