Review: I Don’t Know What I’m Supposed To Be Doing

Thu, June 27, 2019 by Sita

I Don’t Know What I’m Supposed To Be Doing: Emma Decent


Reviewed by Gill O’Donnell

Although initially inspired by the phrase regularly repeated by her mother during the early stages of her dementia, the play itself is not just about Emma’s mother and how the illness meant that she descended into confusion. Rather it is the story of three generations of women and their interactions and how at various stages in their lives they all struggled to discover what they were supposed to be doing and how in trying to do what they felt others expected of them, they all ended up denying themselves the opportunity to be what they wished and all therefore “lost” a part of themselves.

This is an extremely cleverly constructed piece of work and although performed as a solo piece it makes good use of recordings of the reminiscences of others to help to create a less biased view of Emma’s mother. This, along with the inclusion of film archive material and slides also provides an opportunity for the actor to interact with others – although there is the danger that this can appear contrived and somewhat intrusively mawkish rather than moving. There is a fine line here and it does  seem unnecessarily undignified to display her mother’s dotage so graphically on video to an audience and while some may find her farewell heart-rending others may find it distressingly exploitative and something best kept private. This said, there is no doubt that the whole dramatic piece worked powerfully as a tribute to both her mother and her grandmother as well as a fascinating exercise in explaining how she has come to terms with her own emotions and troubled relationship with her mother.

As an examination of the way in which mothers and daughters relate to one another it was a fascinating piece of theatre, though it seemed strange that it should take her so long to realise how profound an effect her mother’s own principles had on shaping her own, but it was slightly less convincing as a study of dementia offering fewer insights other than the central image of it being a process of “un-learning” in which the pages of the book of memories are gradually ripped away from the end to the beginning. There were though some very powerful dramatic moments and the structure of the work itself was faultless making it both comic and poignant in places. Similarly you could not but admire the skill of the performer in what was clearly a very honest and at times uncomfortable portrayal of her own reactions to her mother’s illness.

However, on the question as to whether or not it was an entertainment which I would recommend to others, then I would have to say that the jury is still out – thought-provoking definitely, powerful in parts but for all that, it was simply not something which I would wish to see again. To paraphrase the title, there were too many times when I wasn’t sure what the creator wanted the audience to be feeling or thinking  or even whether what was being done was something which actually should be shared with an audience at all. It was sometimes simply too much like watching a therapy session…

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