FINALLY got to see Autobiographer last night. I’d bought a ticket to one of the very first performances in Birmingham aaaaaages ago and then some wankers nicked half the train track in Nuneaton and I got to New Street ten mins after curtain up. I rang the box office from the train to see if my ticket could be resold and people in the carriage were consoling me about missing the show. Of course, it only made me more determined to see it. I’m not the type to sit back and let fucking scrap metal thieves ruin my arts calendar.
So, on paper, Autobiographer sounds really shit. It’s four women (the same woman at different stages of life) articulating the thoughts and memories of a 76 year old with dementia. There is no discernable narrative thread and at times it feels like you’re having a one-sided conversation with the most boring woman on earth. Which, of course, is really why it’s so good.
Before she died in 2005, my Grandma (Dad’s mum) suffered from dementia. It had progressed very quickly after she had an operation to remove a cancer. Many things made my Grandma’s situation very complicated but, actually, the dementia felt like the least of our worries.
Over the last few years, my Grandpa (Mum’s dad) has become ‘demented’. That sounds like a word you’d use in an essay about Mr Rochester’s first wife. He recently got an infection in both legs because he had forgotten to get into bed. He just sat up all night. My mum is one of four children but is the only one who lives nearby. She recently drifted apart from an old friend because she isn’t able to care for Grandpa herself and her friend disapproved.
(NB: I feel that this is the point at which I should explain that my Grandpa is a complete bastard and I’d said I’d have nothing to do with him even before he started forgetting people’s names. It’s a bit like when The Guardian mention some businessman who’s also on their board. I have to state the facts, for complete transparency. I’m simply not a nice enough human being to forget that he is a bastard.)
So, I watched Autobiographer with these two people in mind. The woman in the show was both my Grandma and my Grandpa, and it was moving. It must be fucking terrifying, losing your memory, and you really got a sense of that progression between panic and anger to just kind of accepting that you don’t know where you are or who you are or anything. It definitely made me wish that I’d spent more time with Grandma before she died, but I was younger then and, frankly, she scared the shit out of me by the end. Autobiographer also made me less angry with my Grandpa, although, because I am not a nice enough human being, that was because I thought “Ha! What goes around comes around motherfucker” rather than growing any sort of empathy.
Like I said, it was powerful.