Cognitive dysfunction does not, perhaps, naturally strike us as a rich vein of humour. However, Forget About The Dog’s collectively-written 100 Ways To Tie A Shoe-Lace succeeds in articulating the funny side of suffering a brain insult. Kat has had an accident. Now she cannot perform simple routines, and her verbal capacities have been impaired.
Intelligent physical theatre that manages to pull off a delicate balance of humour and poignancy
Kat, who may have been almost drowned, is intelligently played by Leanne Stenson, who gives a well-judged performance as the ‘broken’ woman. She is ably supported by an energetic and well-drilled cast who represent her emotional states and her cognitive functions. The play cleverly toggles between ‘real’ scenes involving Kat and her sister Grace in Kat’s hospital room, and amusing yet poignant comic set-pieces which literalise what is going on in Kat’s mind. Perhaps the most effective of these is the Vietnam War parody vignette, which takes place after a tear-jerking scene in which Kat tries, and fails, to remember how to tie her shoe-laces. This is literally an assault on her linear executive functions. However long the soldier shoots at the target, he will always miss, just as Kat will never remember the executive routine of tying her laces.
But the play is not all about humour. Far from it. It is often moving and sometimes painful. Kat’s accident has reversed the big sister/little sister family dynamic. Now her younger sister Grace has to look after her. Kat resists and resents the shift. She pushes Grace away and refuses to admit that she has a problem. She is a woman at war with herself who must confront her deepest fears.
The design aesthetic is stripped down and deconstructed, echoing Kat’s mental state White tape on the floor describes the space of the hospital room (an homage to Lars Von Trier’s film Dogville), and the actors ingeniously employ eight white batons to represent doors, windows, boats, ladders and the mysterious stick figure that swims in her dark unconscious. Three white rostra blocks complete the minimal set. This is intelligent physical theatre, supported by a haunting soundscape and focused performances that manages to pull off a delicate balance of humour and poignancy.
Be warned, the play does not offer a cutesy conclusion. But it does offer a ray of hope. “Grace? My laces. Will you teach me?” That was the third time I cried. 100 Ways To Tie A Shoe-Lace is certainly recommended, but you might want to take a hanky.