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A CurtainUp London Review
Lorna (Zoe Wanamaker) was a school teacher with a terminal condition. She is offered an operation to remove a part of her brain which will result in some memory loss and maybe personality changes. Music teacher Carrie (Barbara Flynn) has been married to Lorna after they met in their forties, less than 25 years ago. Up to now they have been a loving couple, and Carrie has to take the decision as to whether Lorna should have the operation and she opts to save her life.
The opening scene between Carrie and Lorna in a hospital waiting room sees a coldness from Lorna towards her spouse. You see, she doesn't remember who Carrie is and what she meant to her. For Lorna there is no shared history, no affection and no attraction. Lorna uses such formal language, "Is there anything I can help you with?" she says. It's like the participants of a bitter divorce except that one can't remember the relationship and the other doesn't understand how her partner has changed.
The doctor Miriam (Nina Sosanya) tells Carrie on the next occasion that Lorna doesn't want to see her and we the audience get an explanation of the removal of part of the brain and the drugs being administered which of course is incomprehensible to anyone without neurological training.
We are now fairly sure that the scenes are not in chronological order as the doctor explains to Carrie about the neural prosthetics, the artificial substitute for the part of the brain removed, the hypocanthus. This flashback tells us about the prognosis for this procedure to cure Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, addiction, phobias, post traumatic stress disorders but not about the impact on loved ones who have their relationship and memories wiped out.
The performances from all three women are outstanding, Nina Sosanya's coolly professional, unemotional woman doctor, Zoe Wanamaker's Lorna, a blank sheet for the last quarter of a century and most moving of all, Barbara Flynn's emotionally bereft Carrie, who is denied access to Lorna except through a solicitor.
Josie Rourke direction is, as ever, impeccable. Tom Scutt's set has a granular rubber floor which Lorna can dig in and surprisingly find books she remembers. The glass box holding the tree fills with smoke as Lorna's condition gets worse before the operation.
I am told by medics that Nick Payne's prosthetic hypocanthus is an unlikely development but who knows? This play ends, as it started, with the first scene replayed. The difference is the journey the audience has made into the implications of this "brave new world".
Elyse Sommer's review of Manhattan Theater Club's production of Nick Payne's latest mutliple character brain puzzler, Incognito which will be posted just a day after this one. For links and summaries to other science related plays,, check out our Science Plays Page .
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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