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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Amygdala
The Print Room  Winter 2013

When actors turn playwright you can usually count on interesting, complex characters and juicy acting roles, and it's not too surprising if plotting, structure and other elements aren't up to the same high standard. 

The basic plot of Geraldine Alexander's three-hander is somewhat predictable, even banal. But her characters are all more than they first seem, surprising even themselves with behaviours that the playwright and her cast nonetheless make believable. 

A woman who experienced a traumatic tragedy has developed a protective amnesia about the event. A man has been arrested in conjunction with the event, and her repressed memory could either condemn or exonerate him, though in either case it would be unbearably painful for her. 

The psychiatrist treating her also interviews the man, and his version of the story – and the enacted flashbacks it generates – help the doctor with his patient, but the psychiatrist also finds himself becoming unprofessionally emotionally involved with both of the others. (The play's title refers to the lobe of the brain in which emotion-charged memories are filed.) 

The traumatic memory is, of course, withheld from us until very late in the play, though its vague outline is telegraphed long in advance so it's not a total surprise. But the play is really interested in the events leading up to it – an unlikely meeting between two people who have absolutely nothing in common except an irresistible attraction, and how that leads both of them to discover unsuspected things about themselves. 

So, with the shrink also undergoing unexpected changes, all three characters make journeys of self-exploration and attempting to come to grips with what they learn. And all three actors have the challenge and pleasure of introducing characters the audience is quick to pigeon-hole and then show us how wrong our assumptions are. 

The considerable pleasure for the audience is not just in the detective story but in learning and being convinced that people are more complex and unpredictable than we came in assuming. 

Acting as her own director Geraldine Alexander guides her actors – Jasper Britton, Hermione Gulliford and especially Alex Lanipekun as the young man – through rich, believable and sympathetic character journeys. 

Less successfully, she stages the play in a long narrow transverse with most of the action at either end, so the audience experience is at best akin to a tennis match and at worst straining to see past everyone else leaning forward to see what's going on down at the other end.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Amygdala - Print Room  2013

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