Ourselves is a show about memory, how memories change, and how memories change us. And when it is considering this, it is at its most interesting, however certain directorial decisions combined with the occasional writing mishap let down some good performances.
Joy (Madeleine Joyce) and Jules (Morgane Richard) sign up for a study about memory and our brain’s activities in the process of memory, and through some clever narrative devices, we begin to learn about who they are and what they want. The strength of the writing (Anjali Bhat) is in its ability to show how truths can be evident to the newcomer and either invisible or daunting to the person in question. A series of photographs are projected onto the back of the stage, the performers then re-enact the memories. We meet a woman stuck in a life she doesn’t truly want, a refreshing PhD student and an arrogant, selfish boyfriend, and by the end, they have all reshaped their lives for good.
The performances are consistently nuanced, and all show development of character throughout the piece. Initially, there were some strange acting choices, but most of these settled as the plot thickened. That being said, the show’s writing was not straightforward, and a lack of any real denouement meant the acting never paid off or was given the space to become meaningful.
The occasionally laborious structure shows how relationships develop and how we learn about ourselves through others. And while I think the ability of the show to find moments of compelling resonance gave the show some weight, it slowed far too much at points, and this, combined with prolonged scene changes, meant the show lost momentum at times.
Design in this show had moments, the slow collection of emotional souvenirs from each photo could have been used better, and staging often blocked large parts of the audience. Live music (John-Paul Muir) was charming but felt odd given the lack of importance of music in the show.
All in all, this show was a gentle exploration of friendship. I certainly reflected on past acquaintances and how we grow as people, but as I walked out of the theatre, I felt there was undoubtedly much exploring left untouched.
Review by Tom Carter
Ourselves at the Bloomsbury Festival
17th of October 2021 at RADA Studios, Bloomsbury