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Photographic Memory
Published on Monday, 09 May 2011
3.5

3.5 stars

The Nightingale (venue website)
Theatre
6-9 May, 8:30pm-9:30pm
Reviewed by Catherine Meek

 Suitable for age 15+ only.
 Warning: Contains strong language.

In this engaging and thoughtful portrayal of the conflict which exists between perception and reality, dramatist and performer David Sheppeard uses his life story as a vehicle to enquire into memory and forgetting. 

In a digital age such as ours, it’s perhaps easy to take for granted the accessibility of world events, as well as recordings of happenings closer to home.  We forget the untruth of that old maxim, ‘the camera never lies’. In this bold performance, Sheppeard challenges the celluloid images in family photos by telling his often-raw experience growing up gay, capturing an alternative reality to the family myth portrayed in a series of projected slides.

With Alice Booth performing the role of his grandmother, and with the only prop her chair, Sheppeard kneels before her – his head on her knee – to re-enact childhood conversations.  Cleverly acting as his own narrator, he also reveals how, notwithstanding their bond, neither knew the defining details of the other’s life, and neither wants to upset the other with the whole truth.  This performance appears to have given Sheppeard licence to move into the previously-unexplored territory of the gay club scene, a move which evidently resonated with some members of the audience, and held the attention of all.

Impersonating himself dancing at a club, Sheppeard showed himself capable of unselfconscious performance, though that wasn’t always the case: at times, he came across as a touch self-indulgent. Sheppeard himself highlighted his reticence when he had Booth read lines from the script he had shied from reading himself. That the lines proved unmemorable was a very clever technique, emphasising that he, quite clearly, had nothing to be ashamed of.

Whilst the show took a bit of time to warm up, it was the first night of performance on the eve of the Fringe. Ultimately, this was a courageous show and an experiment in theatrical autobiography, which left us warmed by its insight and ready vulnerability – but equally, aware of the conundrums of our own lives, which so often defy ready categorisation.

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