Accidental Nostalgia @ Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

cast list
Cynthia Hopkins, Jim Findlay, DJ Mendel and Jeff Sugg

directed by
DJ Mendel
Cynthia Hopkins show Accidental Nostalgia begins as one thing and ends up as quite another.

A genre-merging performance piece, it has existed in various forms since 2004, when it was first staged in Brooklyn, and is part of a loose trilogy.

It starts as a seminar on memory and the various things that can go wrong with it, especially the contentious area of emotionally triggered amnesia, and then side-fires into a story about past darkness, buried pain and possible patricide.
Using herself as her primary test subject, neurologist Cameron Seymour discourses on the various amnesias that can afflict people, rendering some a little forgetful and some utterly unable to function. Her own memory, she points out early on, is notoriously selective, in fact shes unable to remember whether or not she killed her own father. So in order to fill in blanks she embarks, against her sisters advice, on a journey back home to Georgia.

Camerons story is told through a mix of spoken word and songs, the music supplied by a band at the side of the stage. At first she faces the audience wearing a lab coat and spectacles, and convincingly launches into what is billed as a talk based on her soon to be published book, but the lecture format is soon swept away and the show morphs into a kind of country and western-tinged operetta.

Wearing a series of wigs and mismatched shoes, Hopkins, a New York based performance artist, is a compelling presence, able to carry a song while dangling upside down. She is aided by a pair of Stetson-wearing technicians (her co-designers, Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg) who use pen-cameras and projection screens to compliment the narrative; at one point a camera is thrust beneath her jacket, probing around her bare thighs in the most exposing and intimate way, a rather heavy-handed comment perhaps on the natue of performance theatre of this kind. Later the same tiny camera is used to explore a miniature cardboard town.

Hopkins is the hook that holds all this oddness together. There are times when the story is not nearly as gripping as one would expect of a tale involving murder and memory loss to be; it also seems intentionally complex – hopping continents and introducing random last-minute plot shifts – and rather over-fond of its own quirkiness. Yet theres something appealing in the shows determination to be just what it is and Hopkins is totally in control of her own distinctive material.

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