Occasionally - maybe one in every twenty commissions - I leave a theatre dreading writing a review. Sometimes this is because I don’t have overly strong opinions; sometimes this is because I don’t feel like I know enough to add something to the conversation; and sometimes, this is because someone has made themselves vulnerable onstage, I have dramaturgical issues to flag up and I am supposed to write 350 words unpicking that. This review falls into the latter category. Performed and created by J Ashby, Getting to Know Katie is an intimate, personal exploration of family history; a life story, told from the perspective of someone living with dementia.
Where Getting to Know Katie is strongest is in its concept. The revelation in the final moments has a whack to it, and the flowers, projector slides and wicker baskets add a welcome touch of 1950s kitsch. J Ashby is a confident, competent performer - though I wanted to see a little more light and shade in his delivery - and the verbatim text was cleanly integrated.
In essence, the issue with Getting to Know Katie is that it doesn’t push hard enough at the edges of this concept. On paper it felt exciting, but I left wanting to hear much, much more from it about the less clearly documented: water-damaged documents, gaps in memory, conflicting accounts. It feels like it tries too hard to construct a clean narrative out of the inherently and self-admittedly messy, and uses this as an excuse to avoid getting its hands dirty in more interesting dramaturgies. Though going through Katie’s life chronologically helps to give the ending more of a revelatory punch, it makes for a largely dry piece of work, which only becomes exciting in its final moments. A comment on the micropolitics of remembrance, memory and mourning? Perhaps, but not a comment that lends itself to a classically story-driven genre.
Getting to Know Katie is the sort of work that wants to be picked up and chopped up and dovetailed and spliced into something bigger, different, riskier. It shows definite potential as a demonstration of a concept, but that concept is never fully allowed to land, or explored in enough depth to make it feel like a satisfying watch.