In the dark days of my relative youth, a viewer might see a vaguely familiar face (usually attached to an associated body) acting in some screen-based entertainment and wonder where it had been seen before. Was it ‘im off (or ‘er off) Bergerac (or some other treat from the idiot box of yesteryear)? Sometimes reference to the cast list in the Radio Times or the end credits might bring enlightenment, but often you would be left unfulfilled with a continuing age sense of familiarity. If the viewing had taken place in company, fruitful scope for discussion or argument might ensue – but, once again, with no guarantee of a satisfactory conclusion being reached.
Today, the power of the internet – and in particular, IMDB and Wikipedia – can usually resolve any such question as to where a face had been seen before. Well, it can as long as the current and previous viewings both took place on either the big screen or the haunted goldfish bowl (and engrammatic storage has not degraded beyond a certain, critical point). They are of much less help if either viewing occurred live with the actor in question strutting their stuff atop a stage. For those in the business (of show, in this case) there is source of answers, Spotlight, but this does not give up its secrets to the mere punter (not unless he – or she – also happens to be a skilled hacker).
Given my recent habits, I find it increasingly common that I will know an actor largely (or wholly) from their work on the stage. This has been a primary driver behind my tendency to purchase a programme when visiting the theatre: to check whether I should recognise anyone on the stage and, if so, from where. This is far from foolproof, but does beat hanging around the stage door and asking some poor unfortunate, as they emerge, where I might know them from? Where the programme approach either fails is or unavailable, I am forced to rely on my internet search skills, fading memory and luck to find a rationale behind any nagging sense of familiarity. This process is complicated by my rather good memory for faces, but rather poorer ability to retain the link between the visage and its associated context (including a name). Still further issues ensue given my tendency not to store the various elements of a face together and then lose the important linking information them – so I may easily “recognise” a face based on the nose of face A, the mouth from B and the eyes belonging to C (for A≠B≠C): very much a false positive).
Still, despite these obstacles I am sometimes fortunate and do manage to achieve a positive ID – and this happened last Friday: though this same process of successful identification also (probably) illustrated complete loss of other facial memories. Let me explain…
On the evening in question, I braved the torrential rain and made my way to Clapham Junction. By some miracle, Southwest Trains did manage to deliver me to my destination (which Southern Railways could not, having cancelled all services between Southampton and “the Junction” – though this may not have been rain related as these services seem to be cancelled very frequently, so often that I think they have stopped even waiting for someone to drop an item of millinery). There was a nervous moment about 200 yards from our destination when the entire train had to be re-booted, but after a relatively modest delay, we were able to make it to Clapham. CLJ (as we regular users of the National Rail website know it), is not really in Clapham at all, but in Battersea – which suited me as I was off to visit what remained of the Battersea Arts Centre. This, as some may recall, was spectacularly ablaze not so long ago – though, during my visit the risk of unwanted combustion was pretty low (and evidence for the previous inferno was far from apparent to this viewer). Indeed, after its previous assault by the forces of fire, on Friday evening it was suffering from a degree of flood: I assume earth and air are queueing impatiently to do their worst against the fabric of the building in the not too distant future. Someone at the BAC must really have offered the Classical Gods.
My visit was for a pair of Edinburgh Previews by The Pin and Liam Williams – two apparently unrelated acts. I have seen Mr Williams (NRTK) several times before, but this was my first experience of The Pin – who are a sketch double act – though they had been on my “to see” list for a while. I can thoroughly recommend The Pin – they were quite brilliant (and alarmingly clever) performing what might best be described (by me at least) as meta-sketch. I think they may have supplanted Sheeps (of which Liam W is one-third) as my favourite current sketch act. Mr W was also good, though I suspect has a little more work to do over the next couple of weeks. Given his stage persona is somewhat dour, it was also rather enjoyable seeing him laughing in a unrestrained manner at the antics of The Pin.
So far so good, but how do they two strands in this post come together? Well, half of The Pin – one Ben Ashenden – seemed terribly familiar, but my unaided brain came back with no hint as to why. He has not spent a lot of time on screen, so that also proved a dead end. However, he does have a relatively uncommon name and the profile on his agent’s website provided the key to unlock his familiarity. He was, fairly recently, in the Cambridge Footlights – and I had seen him perform in the ADC theatre when I was resident in South Cambs. Whilst I clearly do remember him, his past writing left few clues on the fleshy tables of my memory as to his current genius.
The same internet search revealed that his partner – Alex Owen – was also in the Footlights at the same time. The poor lad had clearly left no trace in my grey (or white) matter. Worse, Liam Williams was also one of the same happy band (as were some of the rest of Sheeps) – and despite repeated exposure has sparked not even a hint of recall. Mr A is not especially unique looking – there is no second nose or third eye (visible) – or sounding, so I have no idea why he alone should have been committed to my memory. Perhaps just random chance? Maybe the others have just aged more in the last four or five years? He does wear glasses – whereas none of the others do – so as a fellow wearer he may have been granted preferential access to long-term storage. This could be a top-tip for others seeking stardom – though, as I have absolutely no power to affect the career of the aspiring actor or comic, is probably a red herring. Well, unless there is a much stronger link between glasses and prosopagnosia than the current scientific literature suggests – could this be the basis of my long-awaited PhD?
Overall, a very enjoyable – if extremely damp – evening, but one that left me with the nagging suspicion that my mental decay is progressing even faster than I’d realised.