High up in Summerhall, behind an anonymous door, The Dead Memory House is a brilliantly detailed, oppressively feminine space, where the physical imprint of three women’s lives is spread across multiple rooms filled with flowers, eiderdowns and vintage knick-knacks.
In this living installation Bea, Anne and Sylvia are haunted by ghosts of their pasts, their futures and their might-have-beens. Hundreds of pairs of eyes peer eternally onto the scene from a collection of fading photographs, and just as a moment is captured on film, the audience too are given only snapshots of their lives, forcing us to put together the pieces and imagine the ghost stories for ourselves. Through a pained look at the mention of a child’s name, or a tenderly cradled family photograph, we start to feel a tremendous sense of loss without ever really knowing why.
The relationships between the three women are tender, fraught and thoroughly believable in their gentle observation of sisterhood and friendship. Where we recognise and identify with the dynamic between them, there is also an almost otherworldly sense of symbolic layering in the three actors, simultaneously representing different ages of womanhood – the girl in her pink dress, the woman in devilish red, the mother in muted tones.
While The Dead Memory House is a treasure trove of the uncanny, crying out to be explored, it feels as though this immersive piece doesn’t quite know what it wants from its audience and fails to clearly communicate our purpose or permissions in the space. Having been invited into the house as guests at a party and being greeted with nibbles and party games, the audience soon find themselves relegated to awkward presences: talked to but not really permitted to talk, the women’s confidantes one minute, but who must spy on their private thoughts from shadowy corners the next.
There is also an interesting, if not entirely successful, dislocation between the domestic setting and the abstract movement of silent dance. In Anne’s heightened state, Leah Georges throws herself around and across the furniture, neither beautifully nor meaningfully, while the audience shift uncomfortably to get out of the way. The use of movement is less jarring when, rather than taking place around us, it is given the room to stand as a performance on its own and the piece ends with a touching moment of unison. After a shadowy half hour of tense relationships and unspoken sadness, natural light is allowed to pour into the room and across the breakfast table, cleansing the three women finally dancing in harmony in the calm light of day.