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Short Memory by Richard Roques – Golden Goose Theatre

I recall the former derivatives trader Nick Leeson being interviewed on television some years after the collapse of Barings Bank. Asked what happened and how he managed to bring down a British merchant bank: where did all that money go? “Well,” he mused, not wanting to give a definitive explanation that would take significantly longer than the allocated broadcast time for the interview, “it just got lost in the system”. The trading losses sustained by Gerald (Jonathan Hansler) in this play aren’t nearly on that scale, and he was working for himself rather than a merchant bank, but the explanations – plural – as to what went on are borderline pedantic.

Short Memory: Nancy and GeraldThis doesn’t, at least on first viewing, matter too much, even if it makes the dialogue seem rather artificial: how often do people really talk about hedge funds during family gatherings? The hedge fund industry is portrayed here as one of those vocations that involves working ridiculously long hours and being available at any given time to sort out urgent issues that arise. And of course, there is no such thing as a trivial issue, with everything being of the utmost importance. The thing about hedge funds is that most of us have nothing to do with them – you’d have to be a ‘sophisticated investor’, according to a website called Financial Expert, to invest in one. There’s no precise definition as to what this is, though a litmus test is, according to the same source, whether one is an investor in a similar fashion to the BBC Television programme Dragons Den.

This play places its core topic amongst other – more accessible – ones, going to some lengths to portray Gerald as one of those people who spends so much time making so much money they have no time to enjoy any of it: an annual performance of Handel’s Messiah is a focal point for his parents, Adam (Peter Saracen) and Nancy (Janet Behan), who are in the choir. In the fullness of time, their grandson Simon (James Fletcher) joins the choir too, but Gerald has his reasons for not being able to make it. I am reminded of the Workaholics Anonymous meetings that apparently routinely have no-shows on account of attendees ‘having’ to stay late at the office. Jack (Dan Wolff), a younger chorister, becomes Simon’s boyfriend, and thanks to Simon’s strenuous efforts to stay in touch with his oh-so-busy father, he ends up working for Gerald and his hedge fund.

The multi-layered nature of this production means there is something for (almost) everyone: a choir, complete with sheet music in hand, takes to the stage repeatedly, singing excerpts from Messiah, which if anything makes a welcome change from the usual piped-in recorded music between scenes (though there’s some of that as well). Somewhat bizarrely, the show’s programme makes no reference to the choir: I am, frankly, slightly irritated at not being able to properly give credit where it is due, particularly as they sang so well.

Adam sadly develops Alzheimer’s, and the play handles this sensitively, with his wife initially being in a state of denial. Sometimes an entire year passes between scenes and the progression of the disease is harrowing. Any frustration that the play doesn’t delve deeper into Adam’s decline is totally understandable, although I would argue there are other plays that deal with dementia in older life, such as Florian Zeller’s The Father and even Shakespeare’s King Lear. Not many, by contrast, tackle the shady dealings of the hedge fund world. A key intervention from Nancy demonstrates, if anything, that it’s not an impenetrable industry to get one’s head around.

A broad and ambitious production, cramming a seven-year narrative into a couple of hours or so, and commendably isn’t dulled by hedge fund jargon. Who ever would have thought a show about ‘black edge’ and ‘short selling’ would be as intriguing as this one is?

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

A play about Alzheimer’s and music with a community choir live onstage!

Short Memory begins with a live community choir on stage singing the end of the first part of a performance of The Messiah by Handel.

As the choral performance reaches its interval, Adam and Nancy step out of the choir to meet their grandson, Simon.
Simon is more interested in the young man in the choir standing next to his grandfather than the music.

His father, Gerald, runs a hedge fund. He is shorting shares in a pharmaceutical company which is running trials for a new drug to treat Alzheimer’s. The price goes up, he loses. The price goes down, he makes a killing. Gerald needs the drug trials to fail. He is too busy watching the market to notice that his father is losing his memory.

As King George the Second stood in 1743 for the Hallelujah chorus of Handel’s Messiah, Adam, with advanced
Alzheimer’s, stands and sings.

Short Memory
By Richard Roques
7th-23rd April 2022
Golden Goose Theatre
146 Camberwell New Road, SE5 0RR
https://www.goldengoosetheatre.co.uk/

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4 thoughts on “Short Memory by Richard Roques – Golden Goose Theatre”

  1. I really enjoyed the play and home to see it again sometime . The audience this afternoon (fully attended) were gripped!

  2. Nancy’s acknowledgement of Adams condition made my spine tingle. Multi layered play with excellent performances. Excellent choir and movement of large number of people skilfully done. I wondered if a large live choir was necessary as they were under utilised but the sound was vital to the structure of the play. Excellent performances all round.

  3. As a member of the choir for 7 performances, I know the personnel changed from show to show, and so it would have been lengthy to name everyone involved, and I think we all understood that. Glad to hear the sound of such a scratch choir was acceptable!

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