Incognito – reviews of Nick Payne's 'astonishing' new play

May 21, 2014

Payne's ambitious new play about neuroscience makes him a rival to Stoppard, say critics

Bill Knight

What you need to know 
Nick Payne's new play Incognito has opened at the Bush Theatre, London. British playwright Payne is best known for his West End hit Constellations. 

Incognito weaves together fact and fiction in three narratives about the nature of identity and memory. In 1955 a pathologist performing an autopsy on Albert Einstein steals his brain to find out what made him a genius; somewhere in 1950s England a man undergoes brain surgery that erases his memory; and in present day London, a clinical neuropsychologist re-evaluates her life when her marriage falls apart.

The production, directed by Joe Murphy, premiered at High Tide theatre festival last month. Runs until 21 June.

What the critics like 
After mixing astrophysics with rom-com in Constellations, "Payne now makes neuroscience into something equally exciting", says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. This richly human meditation on memory and identity is propulsive, amusing and bewitching rather than befuddling.

Payne's new work is more ambitious, complex, demanding and more successful than his previous hit, Constellations, says Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times. "And as with all the best puzzles, we are left with a sense of emotional as well as intellectual fulfilment".

This canny, haunting new piece is a "playful, funny-sad attempt to put theory into action", says The Independent. And in Joe Murphy's fiercely lucid and involving production, the narrative leaps feel synaptic in their instantaneousness. 

What they don't like 
Nick Payne's "astonishing and original" new play confirms him as a rival to Tom Stoppard, says Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph. But after watching it, Spencer admits his brain felt as if had been on a challenging assault course, and he needed "a hot bath, a cup of sweet tea and a nice lie-down". 

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Read more: