Melanie Wilson's gorgeous, harrowing 'Autobiographer' is an absorbing performance poem about a 76-year-old woman's descent into dementia. In it, writer/performer/ sound artist Wilson and three other actors assume the roles of Flora's remembrances of herself at various stages in her life, from teenage years to the present.
'I'm talking to you now before I forget,' says Alice Lamb's self-possessed 18-year-old Flora, and over 'Autobiographer's course she will indeed forget. The show's 70 minutes take the form of a series of anecdotes – about how Flora lost her virginity, about her feelings on living in London, about the etymology of the term 'horse latitudes' – that are reiterated in incrementally more abstract form as the dementia progresses.
Wilson's language is dazzling, moving from playful lucidity at the beginning to a Joycean storm at the climax, as multiple Floras deliver a barrage of fragmentary reminiscence and her memories collapse upon themselves. The
crisp, immersive sound design is astonishing, a sea of whispers and ambient noise that rises to a disorientating crescendo at the climax, when Ben Pacey and Peter Arnold's shifting canopy of bulbs fizzes and explodes with light and the fog descends finally upon Flora.
Though the show is clearly meticulously researched (Kings College professor Sube Banerjee, is credited) and elements will ring true for those who know dementia sufferers, 'Autobiographer' is above all a work of vivid poetry about memory, its loss and the beauty that lives on in the ashes of a failing mind.