Memory loss is becoming a popular topic of discussion in theatre recently, with productions such as Florian Zeller’s The Father and Barney Norris’s Visitors packing a punch in these last couple of years. Nick Payne’s production of Elegy continues this with an elegant and muted portayal of memory loss.
This may be a love story, but it foreshadows a dark conclusion. Lorna (Zoë Wanamaker) has come out of brain surgery and we learn that, as a result, she has lost 25 years worth of memories. This includes not having any recollection of her marriage with Carrie (Barbara Flynn). In reverse chronological order, we deal with the issue of the vitality of memory, and whether surgery and editing our mind is needed in order to affect our past. It also questions love as a state of mind and what the result is of losing our emotional past.
Payne’s writing thus provides an emotional perspective on science, and Josie Rourke’s simple and quietly considerate approach to the script resonates this more. She uses the intimacy of the Donmar Warehouse well with good use of space both in the design and in the pace of dialogue. I must also acknowledge Tom Scutt’s design with sparse chairs surrounding a large dead tree in the middle, representing a metaphor of Lorna’s breaks in her brain and her affected mind. There is also beautiful use of fog and lighting effects surrounding it.
Nina Sosanya as Miriam, the brain surgeon, should be highly commended for her blunt approach to the script and bringing out a slow emotional development in her strict character throughout the short length of the production. Zoë Wanamaker is also engaging from her quietly considerate moments post-operation and soft vocal, to her alarming physicality in her anger, showcasing a range both emotionally and physically.
Nonetheless, in its 70 minute length, Payne’s script feels too rushed and lacks an emotional depth from each of the characters, with an additional need to know more about the origins of Lorna and Carrie’s relationship. This makes the overall impression of Payne’s play feeling slightly half-hearted during its conclusion. Ironically, and unfortunately, the sense of compression in Elegy becomes too compressed.
Reviewed by Jack Grey
Elegy is playing at the Donmar Warehouse until 18 June 2016