I retreated from this afternoon’s vicious rain to Patrick Robertson’s new play “Recursion,” which is presently playing at C Soco. A playwright (Rory Fairbairn) is suffering from anterograde amnesia and he is being kept in a hospital, where he feels inexplicably compelled to write a new play. Two imaginary actors perform scenes from the play as it is being written. The playwright makes a friend in Hayley (Rachael Halhead), a dappy, quirky OCD sufferer, who finds herself interested in his story. When the playwright loses his temper with Hayley and rages “you don’t know anything about me,” she gamely responds that “neither do you.” But the writer grows impatient with his lack of progress, and he soon comes up against both the tyranny of the system and the Escher’s staircase of his own mind.
This description seems reminiscent of that famous film Momento, but as I have never seen Momento, I am unable to comment on the likeness. It should hardly be a plot spoiler to confirm that the play-within-a-play is indeed a transcript of the playwright’s life before he lost his memory – indeed, this revelation is so predictable that they have virtually telephoned to say that the bomb is ready – but once one puts aside this obvious defect, then “Recursion” becomes a sophisticated and measured play, with strong, clever acting and direction. It purports to be a psychological drama, but it frequently evinces the quick wits of a farce. Rachael Halhead is particularly good as Hayley, and her presence ultimately reconciles the play’s humour and depth.
But my favourite character – and perhaps the most original aspect of “Recursion” – is that performed by Josh Sutherland, who plays… well, what exactly? It is unclear whether he is a satanic manipulator, or a voice of conscience, or a real life employee at the hospital. He looks somehow deeply weird, without his weirdness being attributable to any feature of his appearance, other than perhaps the way that he peers down his nose at everybody. He has a sinister and very hypnotic voice, and one can imagine the play ending with him lining up cast and audience alike and slitting our throats as if we were pigs. He wanders around the drama, contributing absolutely nothing to the story, and yet he is at the very heart of the play’s mystery.
A grand play, and, unlike the unfortunate playwright, you are sure to remember it for a long time.