|Published on Wednesday, 17 August 2011|
2401 Objects is based on a true story. In 1953, Henry Molaison underwent experimental brain surgery that cured him of epilepsy, but left him with almost no memory. Known simply as ‘patient HM’, Henry’s amnesia went down in history for shedding new light on the workings of the mind, and following his death in 2008, his brain was sliced into 2401 pieces – or ‘objects’ – a procedure that was live streamed on the internet. Quite simply, we are informed, Henry’s is ‘the most famous brain in the world.’
Since their breakthrough at the Fringe in 2007, Analogue have made a name for themselves as a pioneering young company with a flair for innovative multi-media productions. This year, they bring this remarkable story to life in a finely crafted piece that’ll have you lost in the deepest recesses of your own mind.
The story jumps between three separate time frames, a construct I found initially confusing – partly because the role of Henry, pre and post operation, is shared between two visually dissimilar actors. The subject matter also inevitably has its challenging moments. Yet, 2401 Objects is a visually stimulating theatrical exploration of memory loss, not a lecture in neuroscience. The structure of the piece, once firmly established, gives the potentially chaotic theme of memory a neat accessibility – aided greatly by the superb acting, in particularly Pieter Lawman as the aging Henry.
Strong cast chemistry and an excellent text, dotted with moments of humorous, quick-fire line delivery, keep the pace afloat and sparkling with intrigue. But for moments when words fail, 2401 Objects draws on a highly inventive visual vocabulary: images projected onto a huge mobile gauze gracefully illustrate Henry’s unstable mental state and his unique perspective on the world. Slipping in and out of focus, fleeting memories become paralleled as projected images, while the ghostly appearance of actors behind the gauze takes on a new, profound meaning. The dynamic nature of the screen – its ability to be pulled forward and rotate – is a revelation: one particularly powerful sequence sees Henry losing himself in a labyrinth of frustrated visions, to disorientating effect.
Though it has its own dominating presence, this device is used sparingly - mainly to provide backdrops to the action played out onstage. It manages not to interfere with the subtleties of the acting, yet many of the strongest moments I found were delivered without any visual aid whatsoever. An exercise that had the audience closing their eyes and picturing the brain beneath their skull provided a moment of empathy equally powerful to those created by means of sophisticated technology.
2401 Objects may rely heavily upon rather complicated technical devices, but unlike many productions of its kind, it delivers both style and substance in abundance. It’ll require your concentration, but this moving portrayal of unfulfilled potential is certainly worth the effort.
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FROM OUR ARCHIVES
These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2011. We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.