“What you can’t chase, you’d better face or it’ll start chasing you”
Danger: Memory! is a double bill of Arthur Miller one-act plays showing at the Jermyn Street Theatre, offering the first chance to see these short works in London for over twenty years. Written in 1987 when he was in his 70s, the two pieces investigate the varying significance of memory and how we can use it to both comfort and protect ourselves.
I Can’t Remember Anything is the first play, a two-hander featuring a pair of elderly New England neighbours meeting for dinner as is part of their routine. Routine has become important as Leo, a retired engineer, is beginning to lose some of his mental sharpness, but Leonora’s memory is failing much more dramatically. Played by real-life husband and wife David Burke and Anna Calder-Marshall, there’s a really touching brittleness to the way in which they play off each other, constantly at odds and unable to agree on anything as their vibrant lives as are touched back on with varying degrees of lucidity, fading memory unable to destroy their beautifully easy rapport.
The second play Clara I found to be less entertaining. A story sparked by the murder of a young woman in a less than salubrious part of New York where the investigating detective is pumping the victim’s father for details of her private life which he apparently can’t remember. It emerges that her boyfriend was in fact Puerto Rican and so his amnesia is more self-protective than genuine as it goes against his liberal principles – which are detailed from way back through his life – to identify him. Though acted well by Rolf Saxon as the father and Roger Sloman as the combative detective, with support from Laura Pyper as the daughter who is featured in key flashbacks, it never quite achieves the moral authority it aims for, its construction too visibly apparent.
Ed Viney’s production of these two shorts pulls out some interesting performances around a subject matter of something that is inescapable for all of us: the tricks that memory increasingly plays on us as the years go by and the huge power it holds. I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed with Anna Finch’s design which didn’t really match up to the other uses of the space that I’ve seen at the Jermyn Street Theatre recently and truth be told this isn’t exactly classic Miller writing, but Danger: Memory! is engaging and there’s something here of interest to more than just Arthur Miller completists.