Manipulate 2023 - Review

20 02 2023


The Fantastic Life of Minnie Rubinski

by Vision Mechanics

Runtime: approximately 60 minutes

Love Beyond (Act of Remembrance)

by Ramesh Meyyappan, Co-Produced by Raw Material & Vanishing Point 

Runtime: approximately 80 minutes

By Natalia Giorgi

The Fantastic Life of Minnie Rubinski and Love Beyond (Act of Remembrance) are two pieces that explore the passage of time as experienced by people who have dementia.

The first is a self-guided journey inside Minnie Rubinski’s brain, the structured yet soft centrepiece, big enough for one person to sit in, of an elaborate installation. Various strains of neurological paths, crafted with the same material as the centrepiece and decorated with fairy lights, depart from Minnie’s brain and connect to tv screens with headphones, each showing a memory of the chaotic, unconventional life of Minnie through filmed puppetry. 

The latter, however, is a play, a tender and raw depiction of a love story through the memories of Harry, a man who has just checked into an assisted living facility, has dementia and uses sign language. He is accompanied in this new phase of life by his carer, May, who provides help and support despite initial struggles to communicate with each other. Past and present merge on stage thanks to the use of three large switchable mirrors that can become half or fully transparent revealing the memories of young Harry. The rest of the set design rings true in its minimalism to many care homes and is functional to the story: a coat hanger, a bed, a bedside table with a framed photo of Harry’s late wife, Harry’s suitcase with his belongings and a table with two chairs. The room appears quite bleak and cold.

On the contrary, Minnie Rubinski’s brain is a bright and colourful environment. The puppet animated memories of Minnie play on a loop on each screen accompanied by music. The perfectly crafted set designs, puppets, collage and cut-outs bring so much life to Minnie’s memories and the people around her. Her past becomes colourful, then stylish and cool, then again melancholic or exciting, as we navigate through different events and stages through the decades. From her life as an unhappy housewife and mother with a despotic husband, to crazy adventures all over the world with a mysterious lover, from fancy star-studded dinner parties to childhood memories in her father’s office, from managing a prestigious art gallery to her late years spent watching tv and imagining constant pleas for help invoking Minnie after her generous contributions framing criminals, rescuing her own children and battling wild animals. Minnie’s stories don’t seem plausible nor realistic, but in the world of puppetry everything is possible. However her hallucinations while watching tv in her late years in between taking medication, suggest that there is more than meets the eye. The internal section of the brain - the centrepiece - relives the same scattered thoughts and memories, but this time auditorily, through a deep, crushed voice. The pain, sadness and confusion of her voice confirm that Minnie’s memories are a blend of lived life experience and imagination, not as an exercise of eccentricity that leads her to exaggerate and make up scenarios, but as a result of dementia. 

Conversely the separation of past and present appears stricter in Love Beyond and is emphasised by the placement of the mirrors that divide the stage into two sections. At times past and present merge thanks to the transparency feature, as well as the rotation that allows the actors to move to the back of the stage as if muddling Harry’s memories. We also see moments of lucidity and clarity when young Harry and his late wife come to the forefront of the stage, such as when they share a tender moment when the memory of a date with his wife resurfaces and the actors sit down at the table and start spinning around the room in a choreographed love bubble that is ultimately burst by confusion and disorientation. Whilst the dementia-induced lack of coherency and chronological order is relevant to the narrative, the play is centred around and celebrates the beautiful love story between Harry and his wife. This piece is incredibly moving, which the sniffles in the audience can certainly attest to. This production doesn’t shy away from delicate themes and successfully delivers a play that is relatable on many different levels as it explores universal feelings masterfully conveyed through great performances and clever staging. 

Similarly the lack of chronological order in Minnie Rubinski’s memories, the random appearance of celebrities – honourable mention given to, Harrison Ford – and the inexplicable gaps in her stories, all begin to make sense to the audience from inside her brain where, ironically, Minnie is more confused than ever. The contrast between the final realisation of the audience and the progressive confusion Minnie finds herself in, is powerful and thought provoking. It is a touching tribute to Kim Bergsagel’s (Creative Director) own mother, who suffered from dementia in her late years, as revealed backstage with behind the scenes photos, videos and models. 

Both The Fantastic Life of Minnie Rubinski and Love Beyond (Act of Remembrance) successfully navigate a delicate theme such as dementia with respect, understanding and creativity, showing that multiple artforms can explore this topic evoking very different emotions.

This publication is written in the context of the project "European Contemporary Puppetry Critical Platform"