Six audience members – no more, no less – are led through a side entrance of the Queen Elizabeth Hall: a Jenga tower of concrete blocks piled between the Southbank and Waterloo Bridge. We are informed that our tour of the building will be the last to see the Purcell Room as we know it, which is already closed for refurbishment for two years. Platform 4 is the last company to present work here in a fitting celebration of the past and how we hold on to it, in promenade installation piece Memory Point(s) (intriguingly, the show is itself the subject of memory having previous been presented here in 2014).
Having spent many an interval in the shared foyer of the Purcell Room and QEH, there is a definite sense of the grandiose in its monumental features. The complex, designed by Hubert Bennett, is imposing, formed mainly of wood, concrete, and marble. It is made grand by its austerity, all clean lines and minimal embellishment. Memory Point(s), which is addressing one challenge for site responsive work by touring a production first made for a very different place in 2012, overturns this heavy brutalist architecture by relocating pockets of the personal and private into the QEH’s blunt interior.
Tonight a tiny corner of the foyer is home to somebody’s living room, perhaps my own, perhaps not. I have a designated leather chair and headset. It could be my postcards and sea shells in the cabinet before us but the photos speak their own story. Portraits of another couple, another tine, another place. With composer Pete Flood’s (Bellowhead) richly evocative soundscape filling our ears, we are guided through the building’s darkness and desolation to pockets of warm, inviting mini-habitats created by designer Su Houser. My winding journey towards a celebratory hiatus has moments of wonder and agency as I dress up in frills, choose sweets from a seaside doll’s house made out of an old wooden desk, and unlock a locker full of tiny installations like a post-modern Joseph Cornell exhibit. The dressing of the sites, performers, and audience is sumptuous, perfumed and wonderful, like the holidays in the photographs and postcards that I rifled through in the desk.
A 50s female and a chap in a tailcoat play a dual role of leading us through the building and through what appears to be their own memories together; their jollity is comforting but perhaps unnecessary, and as the tour progresses their function becomes less clear. They weave together content created from the experiences of a variety of people affected by dementia (the show has been produced in collaboration with the Alzheimers Society). Montages of disparate memories collected from members of the Southampton and Eastleigh Connections Club and Singing for the Brain are constructed in dressing rooms, through windows, on staircases and emergency exits. Each creation is set apart from the next and separated by the time it takes to get there as our tour guide pretends to forget the way or leads us down dead ends – a lovely spatial metaphor for misfires of memory. There is, however, room to add more content here and consider how one scene might transform the experience of the next. There is also potential to drop the guides altogether and allow the audio in our headphones and the live soundscape of the piece to interact more directly.
The reconstruction of memories dislocates them in place and time and effectively disorientates the viewer both in terms of narrative and geography of the space. A reconnection with the building about to be lost is achieved via a clever depiction of a memory revisited in varying pieces and details. It is of a moment on holiday, under umbrellas, with cabaret singing and a musical act. I hear the music from behind glass, I see a musician. I observe a photograph of the scene in what I am sure is the auditorium here but I can’t be sure until I find myself there under those very umbrellas creating the memory for myself. Blurring the boundaries between original fittings and installations is where the piece is at its most interesting.
Memory Point(s) explores unobserved lives and places and situates us directly within the narrative – the installations create pasts and futures that incorporate the audience fully. However, the work is at risk of being overshadowed by the gravity of the QEH. Thought this is site specific immersive theatre, there is space for Memory Point(s) to take more risks and bring itself up to date with contemporary explorative site work. Allowing the space greater influence on the physical, and therefore artistic, journey would empower its potential for transformation – of itself and us. Memory Point(s) begins to do this but leaves a sense of emptiness, a sense that both the QEH and the authors of the memories have more to say and perhaps this is a symptom of re-working a site responsive piece into a new place after its conception and run at The Point, Eastleigh.
After we all dance on the stage with a merry band of frolicking musicians and pose for photographs, dancer Hayley Barker unfurls and hangs from the lighting box ladder and treads the wooden façade of the boundaries of the auditorium. Rebounding back and forth like a pendulum in a flurry of emotions and turning with an invisible partner, Barker ends the show as it is just beginning. Her emotive expressions embody a sense of loss, heightened in its contrast to the nature of the rest of the work where images one step removed – held behind glass, in a frame, shrunk into a tiny dolls house or locked in a locker – dominate. Even when the fourth wall is entirely broken and we prepare to make our costumed debut on stage there is a surreal disconnect between audience and performer. An effective metaphor for the disassociation of fragmented memory, perhaps, but it is a welcome relief here when Barker finally breaks this with an honest and human response, walking away to leave me wondering who she is and what she means to me.