Reviews Roundup: Mnemonic

Olivier, National Theatre

A scene from Mnemonic at the National Theatre July 2024
Theatre de Complicite’s Mnemonic at the National Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson

First performed in 1999, Complicité’s legendary experimental work Mnemonic has been revived, with some updating. The stories of a woman searching across Europe and the discovery of a 5000-year-old man preserved in ice are the main strands in an exploration of memory, human migration and identity. It is directed by Simon McBurney, Complicité’s founder and Artistic Director. A high number of five and four star reviews for its dazzling theatricality were offset slightly by those from critics who thought it seemed old hat.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

Sarah Hemming writing for the Financial Times  (5★) proclaimed it as ‘a profound celebration of the nature of theatre: the collective act of imagination that allows us to collaborate in bringing the past to life…witty, elusive, intensely beautiful and humane.’ Dave Fargnoli in The Stage (5★) ‘Sequences blend fluidly together, with echoing dialogue and recurring gestures carrying through from one scene to the next, creating an aural and visual collage of overlapping content. Understated yet precise physical work offers striking imagery, while plenty of humour keeps the energy up’.

Time Out’s Andrzej Lukowski (5★) talked of ‘brain melting experimental odysseys that’ll rewire your cerebellum’ ‘it builds into something luminous and huge and almost beyond comprehension. Its last few minutes feel like staring overwhelmed at the secrets of creation.’ Dominic Maxwell at The Times  (5★) was also bowled over: ‘Scenes, lines and set pieces slip into one another with invigorating speed. Big ideas keep coming, but so do good jokes. No time to get bored.’ He ended with this recommendation, ‘So, still a masterpiece. If you love theatre, see it. If you don’t love theatre, it might just change your mind.’

The Standard’s Nick Curtis (4★) discovered ‘a teeming, fecund representation of McBurney’s ability to make giant associative leaps while drilling down into what makes us human. It’s beautifully performed’. Alex Wood at WhatsOnStage  (4★) said the show ‘has a vast, continental sweep that makes it an enthralling proposition for the audience.’ It made an impression too on Nick Ferris at the Telegraph (4★): ‘this remains unique experimental theatre, which will linger in the mind long after its conclusion.’

The Observer’s (3 ★) Susannah Clapp compared this production with the original. She said, ‘the qualities with which Complicité has for ever altered the stage are apparent throughout’  However, ‘this reincarnation is more deliberate, more didactic, more confusing than the original.’

The Guardian’s Arifa Akbar (3 ★) felt shortchanged: ‘with all these exquisite parts, the production does not quite deliver on a promise of profundity in tying them together’. She commented, ‘the show does not feel as much of a revolution of ideas and stagecraft as it did in 1999’. Fiona Mountford at i-news (3 ★) made the same point: ‘what previously appeared so ground-breaking has lost a little of its novelty and lustre since’.

Alexander Cohen at Broadway World (2★) was more blunt: ‘Perhaps in 1999 its dreamlike dizziness was revolutionary. In 2024 it feels too predictable to truly dazzle.’

Critics’ Average Rating 4.0★

Value rating 81 (Value rating is the Average Critic Rating divided by the typical ticket price.)

Mnemonic can be seen at the National Theatre until 10 August 2024. Click here to buy tickets direct from the National Theatre

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