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Published on Tuesday, 16 August 2011

3 stars

C venues - C soco (venue website)
3-15, 17-29 Aug, 4:30pm-5:15pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

Recursion, for those unfamiliar with this somewhat mathematical term, is the act of going in a circle - doing something to yourself, like a snake swallowing its own tail. In this short but intriguing new play, an amnesiac travels in rings around his forgotten past, seeking the truth about what's left him on a psychiatric ward. He discovers, in the end, that there are some things you're just never meant to know.

Though maybe slow to start, the play gradually reeled me into its mysteries, dropping enough hints to let me follow the thread but keeping its greatest secrets carefully in reserve.  The mood darkens as we learn more about the patient's troubled past, and the title theme - recursion - comes out only at the very end.

That old gambit, the play within the play, is simply and effectively used, as our forgetful hero pens a script which (it's not hard to guess) is subconsciously inspired by his prior life.  He writes a sad but very believable tale, of a couple growing apart under the pressure of a psychological decline. Much credit is due for the sympathetic treatment of these difficult themes; even the woman with OCD, who you'd cynically expect to be a crude caricature, is in fact delicately and subtly drawn.

There were very credible performances from all of the leads, but the complete production didn't quite achieve the sense of mystique which would raise it to the next level; with the exception of the ominous, all-knowing, black-clad narrator, the characterisation tended to go for realism above dramatic effect.  A few lines were gabbled (it underran by five minutes, so they can afford to take more time), but I admired the effective use of very simple lighting, which successfully divided the awkwardly-shaped stage into clearly delineated scenes.

Still, it's the script which is the real heart of this play. The final resolution is clever and chilling, linking back to a crucial detail of earlier dialogue which may well have slipped your mind. But ultimately, Recursion is curiously slight; at 45 minutes, there's not quite enough time to develop the mystery before all must be revealed. It's well worth watching, but its potential isn't quite fulfiled - so here's hoping it circles round again, in an extended version which truly explores its well-planned themes.

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