In 1953, Henry Molaison underwent experimental brain surgery to cure severe epilepsy, with the doctors removing both his hippocampii as part of the procedure. The operation largely cured Henry's epilepsy but left him with an extreme case of amnesia – he suffered both retrograde amnedia, which caused him to lose two years of memory leading up to the operation, and more devestatingly, anterograde amnesia, which meant Henry was unable to form new memories for the rest of his life, leaving him a curiosity within the neuroscience community – becoming much studied and well known as “Patient H.M”.
On 2 December 2009 at The Brain Observatory (University of California). Dr. Jacopo Annese dissected the brain of H.M (who had died two years earlier), streamed live on the internet to a global audience of over 400,000 people, including Analogue’s co-Artistic Director Liam Jarvis, who was fascinated by this story. Henry’s brain now exists in 2401 seventy-micron-thin slices; manuscripts of tissue like the pages of a book. These slices now tell the story of a man who could no longer remember but who has proved impossible to forget, and are gradually changing the way we understand memory forever.
Inspired by this incredible true-life story, Analogue created 2401 Objects, a new mixed media theatre show that tells the story of a man permanently trapped in the present, with no memory of his immediate past. Our version of Henry’s story explores the impact on those loved ones around him, intercutting from his strained pre-operation family life and the relationship-that-never-was with the girl next door, to post-operation Henry, many years on, living in the care home where he spent his final days, looked after by nurses who he could never remember from day to day. Intercutting with Henry’s story is a strand of biographical storytelling featuring Dr Jacopo Annese from The Brain Observatory San Diego – the world’s leading expert on this case study.
The show was made in collaboration with Dr Annese, which was made possible through the support of The Wellcome Trust. Dr Annese’s generous collaboration and support helped us gain greater understanding into Henry’s unique condition, and develop a more thorough understanding of the neuroscientific procedures involved in brain surgery – with Annese’s experience of the case directly becoming a story thread in its own right within our narrative, providing an important scientific perspective within an otherwise human story.
The formal and visual world of the production – a major part of all of Analogue’s work – was inspired by the motion and imagery of a guillotine slicing and a scanner scanning. Our set comprised of a large screen we termed the ‘macro-tome’ – a play on the microtome equipment used to dissect HM’s brain in 2009 – which allowed us to formally stage the language of memory loss, as if the set was itself slicing through Henry’s history, revealing live memories played out as scenes, before swallowing them up into the dark, lost forever.
The show premiered at the 2011 Edinburgh Festival, in co-production with Oldenburgisches Staatstheater and New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich. The show ran for 4 weeks in Edinburgh, and has since toured the UK in 2012, visiting key venues including Traverse Theatre, Drum Theatre Plymouth, The Lowry, The Junction, The Point Eastleigh, Derby Theatre, ARC, The Dukes Theatre and more.