I don’t think any of us particularly enjoy the dentist, but the situation mostly plays out like this: we dread it for a little while, we attend our appointment, we’re uncomfortable for a bit, then everything is fine until next time. However, that wasn’t the case for the protagonist of Brian Coyle’s new play, Martin, who went for a root canal surgery in 2008 and came out with acute retrograde amnesia. He can no longer create any long-term memories, and is taken back to the day of his surgery every few hours. In Timeless, Coyle explores how memory loss might affect an average Joe with a normal life, in an account loosely based on a real life medical mystery.
Martin is 48, a cab driver with The Knowledge, but he can’t remember beyond three hours ago. He can recall events from decades ago, and the cab runs he has memorised over the years perfectly well, but only because they were before the day of his surgery. He takes ‘living in the present’ to a whole new level; he has no choice but to. He jokes that the Dalai Lama would approve, that he is “enlightened.” He is, in a sense, timeless. Every morning his wife Tracey has him read a note on his smartphone that explains it all. Think 50 First Dates but set in a working-class family home in the East End. “You have a problem,” the note begins. But what Martin only occasionally realises, is that his memory problems are only the tip of the iceberg. His condition has, inevitably and through no fault of his own, impacted his family in ways beyond his and our comprehension.
A one-man show, Tracey is never seen, but Martin talks of her constantly. The constant strain she must be under is unfathomable, and so when the family starts to crumble, it doesn’t come as much of a shock. As Martin recalls the earlier days of their relationship, the cracks already begin to show. It appears that whether Martin had had his injury or not, his marriage would not have survived. His memory issues are merely a catalyst for a predetermined outcome. Therefore, Timeless is as much about memory loss as Finding Nemo is. It does highlight the terrifying concept that we know comparatively little about the human brain, how it works, and what can make it do the things it does. Martin’s story is truly scary, but the exploration into the fragility of the human psyche ends there, and Timeless becomes more of a love-triangle/episode of Jeremy Kyle.
The speed and ease with which John Rayment shifts gears as Martin, from confused, to content, to angry, to reminiscent, is almost worrying. The vacancy in his eyes in moments when he is struggling to remember is genuinely chilling. He gives Martin a vulnerability that is amiable, but he also gives him a somewhat seedy side, with little mentions here and there of women he’d “shagged” with a lick of the lips, and how Tracey was “looking bigger” than he’d remembered, which are equally hard to ignore and reduce the compassion we’ve amassed for him so far. Directed by Charlotte Peters, Timeless takes a stab at an intriguing and inexplicable subject, but gets distracted by domestic drama and loses its opportunity to make unique and lasting impact.
Timeless is playing at Theatre N16 until 4 October. For more information and tickets, click here.