Incognito (Red Stitch) – theatre review

Superbly acted and directed, the theatrics and dramatics in the richly intelligent Australian premiere of Incognito are compelling.

The experience begins as you walk through the narrow passageway into the theatre. That’s when you notice a thin, taut, crisscrossed black rope along one wall and then liberally strewn throughout the theatre itself, dropping down to a baby grand piano. It has the appearance of an intricate web, like spiders weave. It represents the interconnections of the brain and has been brilliantly conceived and executed by Chloe Greaves (who is responsible for both set and costumes).

Incognito explores the nature of identity and tells a series of interwoven stories and how we are defined by what we remember. It raises all sorts of issues. What makes one one? What is it to be human and make another human connection? How are we hard wired? What happens when the circuit is cut or interrupted? What is real and what is imaginary? And most importantly, how do we give our lives meaning?

One chapter is set in Princeton, New Jersey in 1955. Thomas Stoltz Harvey performs an autopsy on Albert Einstein and then steals his brain. Another takes place in Bath, England a couple of years earlier. Henry undergoes pioneering brain surgery that changes his life and the history of neuroscience. Finally in present day London, Martha is a clinical neuropsychologist. When her marriage breaks down, she starts to make radically different choices.

I can’t speak highly enough of the performances, complete with diverse accents – nuanced and mesmerising all. Guest actor Jing-Xuan Chan is delightful and engaging. When it comes to vitriol, Kate Cole can dish it out with the best of them, in fact better than most. Her diatribes are memorable. They, along with Ben Prendergast and Paul Ashcroft, take us on a journey through the highways and byways of the mind.

Inquisitive, bold and confronting, Incognito is an intellectual puzzle, a masterful piece of writing by British playwright Nick Payne. Directed by founding Red Stitch ensemble members Ella Caldwell and Brett Cousins, it is playing at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre, at the rear of 2 Chapel Street, St Kilda, until 13 August 2017.

Alex First

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