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Review: Incognito at Live Theatre, Newcastle

Nick Payne's new play should see Live Theatre with another hit on its hands as Sam Wonfor reports

****
Cast members Sargon Yelda and Paul Hickey in Incognito by Nick Payne
Cast members Sargon Yelda and Paul Hickey in Incognito by Nick Payne

Live Theatre were a big winner at last week’s Culture Awards thanks to last year’s production of Wet House - a startlingly good play by new writer Paddy Campbell, which brought out stellar performances from a cast and crew who boasted experience and exciting potential... and got the best out of both.

It seems the venue may be on a winning streak.

It’s currently playing host to Incognito, a new play by Nick Payne which it co-commissioned with new friends nabokov and the High Tide Festival and which combines complexity and compelling storytelling to memorable effect.

Exploring questions of identity, memory and free will, the play cleverly weaves together three separate stories.

The first follows Thomas Stoltz Harvey, an American pathologist who stole Albert Einstein’s brain in 1955, citing scientific advancement as his motive.

Next, and still in the fifties, we meet Henry, a well-spoken man from Bath who is perpetually unable to form short term memories following pioneering brain surgery to ease his epilepsy.

Finally, and in the present day, there is Martha, a newly divorced and bisexual neuropsychologist, who is trying to find her place in the world after 21 years of marriage... which is no mean feat when you consider she has signed up to the notion that “there is no me, there is no you... the brain builds a narrative to steady us from moment to moment, but ultimately it’s an illusion”. Good luck moving forward with that outlook Martha.

It’s testament to the flowing and realistic dialogue - together with director Joe Murphy’s simple but definite staging - that the fast-moving flurry of scenes, fleshing out each of the respective storylines, quickly become immersive.

Credit must also go of course to the four-strong cast: Paul Hickey, Amelia Lowdell, Alison O’Donnell and Sargon Yelda who seamlessly notch up in excess of 20 distinct characters - and associated melting pot of accents - between them.

The play received stars aplenty when it premiered at the High Tide Festival (following previews at Live in early April) and it’s not hard to see why.

Staged without an interval, the 90-minute production engages the audience on both emotional and intellectual levels, making us care about what fate has in story for its troubled characters while asking ourselves questions about who we are and why.

Don’t forget to book your tickets.

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