Forget Me Not opens a window into Imperial Britain’s dark soul. It tells the story of the thousands of children who were shipped over to Australia between 1945-1968. Most of them were orphans, but some were skilfully kidnapped from their disgraced parents; all of them dragged over to boost the white population and provide free labour. This play focuses on Gerry, one such unfortunate child.
The play joins Gerry as a middle-aged man, crippled by a drinking problem and a mess of other issues. Information is drip-fed to the audience, largely through the tense interactions between him and his daughter Sal. When Mark, a hopeful clerk from the Childs Migrant Trust, finds out the truth Gerry is forced to face his issues – in turn leading him to Mary, his mother, huddled in her “horrible” flat in Liverpool.
The cast give a harrowing face to the historical facts. Russell Floyd is excellent as Gerry, alternating between childlike bewilderment and aggressive fury to create a confused fractured character. Eleanor Bron shines as Mary, giving her a sense of loss that is at times difficult to watch, and a hopefulness that is heartbreaking. Sarah Ridgeway as daughter Sal manages to convey the anger and confusion felt by all exposed to the tragic scheme; in one scene she rips into Gerry with such passion and despair that you forget she is acting at all. Sargon Yelda as Mark provides the stable platform from which the others can leap, giving normalcy and a sense of calm to the play. Together, the four actors are flawless; where many other plays have a weak link, Forget Me Not is impressive in the sum of its parts.
The direction of the play is similarly powerful. Steven Atkinson’s use of Handel’s “Sarabande” and Queen’s “Who Wants To Live Forever” is blaring and unpredictable. Along with the bright violent camera flashes that punctuate the scenes, the play is tiring but enjoyable to watch. Or if enjoyable is the wrong word, then “emotive” or “effective” could take its place.
Overall the play is a must-see. Neither a fluffy romance nor a bounding comedy, this play has a sense of purpose. The White Australia Policy was a real-life horror created by a chain of Governments and children’s charities; a pitiless shadow on our history. Forget Me Not brings the pain of this wound to life in a beautiful and compassionate way, and will stay with you long after the curtain draws.
Bush Theatre London, until 16 January.
Tickets from £12.50