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This is Memorial Device review (Riverside Studios)

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The theatrical adaptation of David Keenan’s novel ‘This is Memorial Device’ debuted at the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe to rave reviews. Nearly two years on, the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh production is currently touring the UK and is based at Riverside Studios in London for a few weeks. Adapted for the stage by Graham Eatough, the play follows a documentary-style format and looks at the fictional post-punk band ‘Memorial Device’, their local fandom in the 1980s and the group’s impact on the local community in Airdrie, Scotland. I was intrigued to see the production during its 3-week run in London, after hearing great things about the book.

This Is Memorial Device Production Photo - Mihaela Bodlovic
© Mihaela Bodlovic

A complex account of band culture

I haven’t read the cult novel, but am a firm believer in the fact that theatrical adaptations should be able to stand on their own feet, unsupported by the original text. The first part of the show is easy to follow, with Ross (Paul Higgins) reflecting on Memorial Device’s impact on his life. When he talks about the band members it starts to move into surreal territory, with the principal character using mannequins to recreate the personalities and the behaviours of his musical idols. It is here where Ross’ recollection of reality and the impersonation of the band start to blur into one, which has an impact on the overall structure of the play. Initially an unconventional choice of prop for storytelling, we learn that the mannequins mimic the group’s early antics during their rise to fame, with the mechanical objects sometimes standing in for the group at public appearances.

This Is Memorial Device Production Photo - Mihaela Bodlovic
© Mihaela Bodlovic

There is a sadness to the narrative, with one of the musician’s lives being cut short early and Ross is clearly deeply affected by this. When he talks about their success through a collected lens and relatable monologues, I could appreciate the joy that the fictional group has brought to the community, but this is positioned alongside confusing, hallucination sequences. It makes you wonder whether Ross is high on substances in places, with the second half of the production feeling extremely euphoric with the excessive use of mannequins and a totally uncontrolled display of emotions.

Multimedia design

It is a multimedia play which creatively is unlike anything I have seen on stage, utilising video, sound and experimental lighting effects. Martin Clark’s video design helps viewers to understand what Airdrie was like in the 1980s, with the town at the centre of the writing. I also liked the pre-recorded video interviews with fans, adding more characters to the play, but Ross’ effortless movements on stage in the foreground are slightly distracting. I honestly wasn’t sure where to look and subsequently the performance felt a little chaotic in places.

This Is Memorial Device Production Photo - Mihaela Bodlovic
© Mihaela Bodlovic

Performance style

Higgins embodies the spirit of the band members in Ross’ impersonations, leaning into mannequins and ‘playing’ the guitars that are positioned around their necks. This commitment to the fictional band helps with the overall storytelling as he talks about the specifics of each person and what makes them unique within the group. It all feels a little dreamlike, but Higgins pours a lot of emotion into the role of Ross and there is no doubt about the character’s passion towards the band.

This Is Memorial Device Production Photo - Mihaela Bodlovic
© Mihaela Bodlovic

Final thoughts

‘This is Memorial Device’ feels like a tribute to the 1980s Scottish post-punk scene and anyone who has ever been a devoted fan of a band, but it doesn’t quite achieve this in my opinion thanks to a high proportion of the show blurring the lines between imagination, memories and real life. I am incredibly split by this one as I enjoyed the creative experimentation and Higgins’ performance, but struggled to keep up with all of the anecdotes and antics in this one person format. That being said, it is certainly a unique piece of theatre, addressing band culture in a novel way. This is Memorial Device is playing at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith until Saturday 11th May, with last minute tickets available via the venue’s website.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Love Kat xxxx

*My ticket for This is Memorial Device was gifted in exchange for an unbiased review.



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