What would you do if you could erase memories? Do away with those so horrific they risk destroying not just your life, but possibly those close to you? It sounds great doesn’t it? Except, well, think it through a little more: how do you keep those memories suppressed when they are interwoven with others that perhaps you want to keep, like when a song evokes memories? How could you just lose some selectively?
It’s very much this concept that underlies Harpy Productions’ Lethe. Alice wakes up having undergone the procedure, but of course now she can’t remember consenting to it. Because the procedure is clever, it also blocks out any memories that could risk her remembering what led her here to begin with. But we all know what it’s like when a memory is just out of reach – we do everything we can to draw it to the surface. Which in Alice’s case, really isn’t a great idea.
From the moment we walk into The Pleasance’s Studio every effort is made to put us on edge. We are greeted with Alice (Sarah Cullum) sitting, staring straight at us, whilst a soulless voiceover repeatedly recites “Welcome to Lethe”. From there, sound designer Rodent ratchets up the tension with some fine work, especially with the incessant background humming and moments when distortion drowns out words and music, as Alice’s implant reacts to possible memory breaches.
Even more disturbing is the appearance of a hooded individual as Alice begins to tell her story. Perhaps the more astute may have spotted Eleanor Harper kneeling behind the chair as we entered, but if not, that moment when she creeps out, hood up, and begins to mirror Alice is oh so unsettling. Coral Tarran’s movement direction really shines beside Micha Mirto’s direction in allowing the pair to possess the stage together in such a way. What is she? Who is she? Why is she? “The silence is stalking me” Alice tells us at one point, and you wonder if she means that shadow behind her? It’s those questions that circle your mind as you watch, almost mesmerised as this hooded figure creeps around. On occasion she becomes Daphne, Alice’s younger sister, or the video image of Past Alice, but it is when she is almost a shadow of Alice that things feel most uncomfortable. She is that shadow in the corner of our bedrooms that we feared as young children, never quite seeing the monster but knowing it’s there, in the corner of our eye: were Alice to turn around fast enough she may just catch it before it vanishes into the dark again. In some ways I longed for the small space to be totally blacked out so this shadow could be even more sinister, even more just a shadow behind Alice the whole time.
Noga Flaishon‘s writing is wonderfully dark and enigmatic, as you would hope from someone who namechecks Black Mirror as an influence. The truth of what Alice wants to forget is dangled tantalisingly in front of us, just out of reach however much we grasp. Every new moment seems to bring you slightly closer to understanding what it is, and yet it remains frustratingly unobtainable.
Lethe is for those of us who want to be teased with answers. It is tense, it is intriguing, and pure delight to be left wondering as we try to piece it all together. It is the perfect play to argue about in the pub afterwards. And above all else, if I were Charlie Brooker I’d be asking for the rights to include this in my next season of Black Mirror.
Written by: Noga Fliashon
Directed by: Micha Mirto
Sound design by: Rodent
Lighting design by: Adi Currie
Movement design by: Coral Tarran
Produced by: Ross Chandler and Ania Kapsza for Harpy Productions
Lethe played for by-invite for this performance only. Harpy Productions plan to bring it back for a proper run soon; check the company website here for updates.