Blank Tiles review at Assembly George Square, Edinburgh – ‘patchy, poignant monologue’
There are over 200,000 legal words in Scrabble, and Austin used to know them all. Used to. His memory’s failing him now – the result of early onset Alzheimer’s – and his Scrabble playing days are behind him. Writer-performer Dylan Cole sketches out what remains of his memory in a patchy, poignant monologue that suffers only from actorly excess.
Framed as Austin recording his recollections on a Dictaphone to prevent them slipping away, Cole’s one-man show neatly conjures up a portrait of a man losing his grip on reality. He recalls his childhood fairly well, his glory days as a Scrabble World Champ, too.
But as the monologue progresses, these memories bundle into one another. He repeats himself. He can’t remember his opponents. Heartbreakingly, he forgets about his wife.
It’s moving, in a downbeat, unassuming way, and Cole invests Austin with a dorky, anorak energy. But although his humble geniality and incessant dad jokes ensure his descent into confused despair remains affecting, Austin’s often more of a caricature than a character.
His broad Northern accent, his exuberant tics, his shuffling guffaw – they never feel genuine. It’s a problem exacerbated by a similarly unsubtle staging, overly reliant on an enormous magnetic Scrabble board. Less, here, would be more.