Remarkable neuroscience story
This article is from 2011.
This piece of devised theatre tells the story of the man with the most famous brain in the world, Henry Molaison, or patient HM as he became known to the international medical community that studied him for decades before he died. Molaison was born in Connecticut, America in 1926 and suffered from debilitating epilepsy from his childhood. In 1953 his parents agreed to surgical treatment and a neuroscientist named William Beecher Scoville operated on his temporal lobes, removing his two hippocampuses, the little sea horse-shaped parts of the brain that process new experiences and turn them into memories to be stored in the brain’s library. Subsequent to that procedure, Molaison could no longer make new memories and he spent the rest of his life in a care home, eventually dying in 2008.
2401 Objects contrasts Moliason’s largely happy pre-operation life, focusing on his relationship with his loving parents and his burgeoning romance with the girl next door, and post-op, when he became a tragic figure unable to retain memories beyond a few moments including the news that his parents had died many years ago. Molaison’s story is a very sad one, but this show frames it in a way that celebrates patient HM through the narration of Dr Jacopo Annese, the neuroscientist who sliced Molaison’s brain into 2401 pieces allowing the medical community to greatly advance our understanding of amnesia.
The way in which the show is devised – cutting back and forth in time and replaying scenes over and over again – cleverly approximates Molaison’s unique medical condition. And the narrative confusion is underscored by the cast of three constantly switching roles and by a multimedia element, a giant moveable screen onto which various backdrops are projected. If there’s one criticism of 2401 Objects it’s that is feels slightly rushed. Otherwise, it’s cleverly conceived, smartly executed and emotionally engaging.
Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, until 28 Aug (not 16, 23), 4.40pm, £10–£12 (£9–£11).