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Review: Nick Payne's Incognito at the Bush Theatre


Amelia Lowdell in Incognito. Photo by Bill Knight.

The title of Nick Payne's latest play (gosh he's prolific) gives a hint of its themes primarily the hidden self. Incognito is an exploration of the sense of self, whether through our own perceptions, relationships or straightforward biology and whether it is truthful.


There are three stories interwoven and presented like overlapping jigsaw pieces, boundaries blurring as the four cast members stride in and out of scenes with only differing accents to distinguish the multiple characters they play.

Two of the stories are set in the fifties. In one After conducting his autopsy, Thomas Harvey steals Einstein's brain to use for research.  In the other Henry's life is changed fundamentally after brain surgery leaves him with only a short term memory.

The third, set in the present, follows a clinical neuro-psychologist Martha who is struggling to cope with her patients and with her own radically changing life choices.

Each of the central characters is in some way hidden from their self and it is interesting how they cope with that. Harvey is obsessed with his research to the point where it takes over his life to the exclusion of most others. Henry's life has become frozen at the time in which he was about to go on honeymoon and he can't remember anything outside that for longer than a few minutes.

Martha's patients have memory problems which she sees as both a blessing and a curse. In forgetting certain events they can escape and live with freedom from the illusion of life the brain creates. Her own change in sexual desire having been married with a child for 14 years makes her question her own sense of self.

Incognito, like Constellations, leaves you with a jumble of ideas to work through. Threads will move more than others. For me it was the brains fragility and, conversely, strength in dealing with life. The definition of ourselve can come from multiple sources and yet on one level we remain utterly disconnected and isolated.

I'm not sure everything that is performed is entirely necessary but there is a lot to admire, not least watching the actors - Paul Hickey, Amelia Lowdel, Alison O'Donnell and Sargon Yelda - slip from accent to accent, character to character with such craft.

Incognito isn't a play of high drama, other than an accidentally disgarded cigarette that smoked for a bit from beneath the floor boards and had several members of the audience worried, instead it is a subtle piece of depth that works its way slowly. It didn't quite have the same impact as Constellations but further cements Payne among the best contemporary playwrights around.

Incognito opened at the High Tide Festival before transferring to the Bush Theatre where it runs until 21 June.


Sargon Yelda was in the Emporer and Galilean which starred Andrew Scott who's worked with Mr W on stage and on screen.