Short Memory by Richard Roques has a solid premise: three generations dealing with Alzheimer’s, with a family fractured by one of them placing more importance on money than the life, health and happiness of everyone else. There’s also the charming idea of including a live choir in the performance; a nice touch for the scenes that are set in a performance of Handel’s Messiah. True to advertisements, it’s a “play about a choir with a choir”. Throw in a love story between the grandson of the family, Simon (James Fletcher), and a dashing young member of the choir, Jack (Dan Wolff), and you’ve got all the ingredients of something good.
However, as my Nan used to tell me when she cooked, you can’t just throw it together and hope for the best. The script simply doesn’t allow moments or themes to shine; it feels like elements need more thought to mesh it together. The dialogue is a bit awkward and long winded, spending too long on things which don’t feel necessary. For example, an explanation on what ‘shorting’ is in financial terms took too much time and drained away energy. The narrative didn’t need that level of detail, and I was left none the wiser anyway. Additionally, the loves and losses (of health, loved ones and money) portrayed take the family through a timespan of six years or so; perhaps it is just too much to fit into one play.
Using the choir as a narrative device is clever. They sing the same thing several times to indicate we are at the same point in the concert only a year later. However, I was soon dying to hear them sing something else – not just for my own sake, but for the enjoyment of the enthusiastic singers. I was also sad to see they weren’t acknowledged in the programme: no credit where credit is due. Another perplexing artistic choice is having Zadok the Priest playing while Simon and Jack awkwardly and choreographically undress each other. It seemed a bit odd that a recorded choir sang “God save the King! Long live the King!” while a real choir sat at the edge, watching as two young lovers gear up for bed to a coronation anthem. The performance as a whole just didn’t add up for me.
The set is fittingly simple, but maybe cumbersome as some scene changes seemed to take a while. Luke Marino’s lighting is effective, but you could tell that the choir struggled to read their music due to some of the choices made. The performers are clearly skilled, giving a lot to the dialogue they are given. Touching emotional content came from Janet Behan and Peter Saracen as Nancy and Adam, the grandparents dealing with the tragedy of a hopeless decline due to Alzheimer’s. I would love to see this ensemble with something they can sink their teeth into. Short Memory is a play that has potential, but this remains unrealised for now.
Written by: Richard Roques
Directed by: Richard Roques
Design by: Rachel Maloney
Lighting design by: Luke Marino
Short Memory plays at Golden Goose Theatre until 23 April. Further information and bookings here.