A new play by Richard Roques blends the world of high finance with Alzheimer’s and choral societies
12 March, 2020 — By Jane Clinton
A scene from Short Memory by Richard Roques
FOR playwright Richard Roques, the nefarious world of short selling shares on the stock market has long fascinated him.
Add that to his love of music – he sings in the Highgate Choral Society – and you have two strands of his latest play, Short Memory.
The third strand is the story of a man with Alzheimer’s.
All three, says Richard, inform and draw on each other. But ultimately the play is about a family and the often fraught relationships within them.
There is Gerald, who runs a hedge fund and is shorting shares in a pharmaceutical company which is running trials for a new drug to treat Alzheimer’s.
He needs the drug to fail. If it fails the price goes down and he makes a fortune. If the trial is a success the price goes up and Gerald loses money. Shorting in this instance is Gerald betting on a certain outcome – that the trials fail.
This is further complicated when we learn that his father has Alzheimer’s and would have needed such a drug to succeed to treat the disease. But Gerald is too busy making money to know about his father’s illness. Then there is Gerald’s mother who does something that Richard says will shock.
“People who have read the script have said: ‘how could she do that to her son?,” he says. “But the truth is, everyone is compromised in this story.”
It is an intriguing plot but add in a choir that performs live and you get a sense of the ambition of Short Memory.
In the weeks running up to the play’s first rehearsals Richard advertised for people who had sung Handel’s Messiah to get in touch. He had no trouble in recruiting singers.
Having a 16-strong choir perform every night has been both exciting and labour intensive. Not all those 16 will sing at every performance so it means rehearsals are also taking place before every show.
“Even if only one person is new to the choir they obviously need to learn their cues,” says Richard, who trained as an actor and lives in Islington.
He is the author of radio plays and short stories as well as seven plays. A previous play, Going Short, was set during the collapse of Lehman brothers and so this is not entirely uncharted territory for him. “I am really interested in how the markets work,” he says.
“I think a lot of people turn off when it comes to the world of finance so I have tried to explain it a little and hope people come away with perhaps a better understanding of what these people are getting up to.”
Including the subject of Alzheimer’s was due in part because he knows someone who is living with the condition. But he is quick to insist the play has a broad focus.
“This is not a play about Alzheimer’s,” he says. “This is a play about someone who’s got Alzheimer’s. That sounds pedantic. But it’s about a lot of different things. And at the heart of it is someone who forgets everything but remembers the music.
“It’s very difficult to write anything about Alzheimer’s that isn’t absolutely miserable. But I wanted to focus on this positive aspect to it.
“There is also a lot of discussion about the importance and benefits of music for people with dementia. We read stories of people who are able to sing songs but find it hard to converse. It is as if the music is deep down inside, it’s already there, programmed.
“These ideas came together as I’ve been interested in the financial world, music and Alzheimer’s and all of them are linked together in this play.”
Richard, who as well as writing plays is a walking tour guide of 30 years’ standing, is clear that the family dynamics are what drives the action in Short Memory. “There are some very funny moments,” he says, “and I hope people are gripped by the human drama which is essentially a conflict within a family.”
• Short Memory runs from March 17-April 5 at Waterloo East Theatre, Brad Street, SE1 8TN. For details or to book visit waterlooeast.co.uk or call 020 7928 0060.