Writer and performer Dylan Cole's Blank Tiles is a simultaneously hilarious and moving piece about having everything and then losing it all. His character, Austin Michaels, struggles through his degenerative Alzheimer's to recount to us winning the 1992 Scrabble World Championship and subsequent descent into memory loss. Michaels is hopelessly endearing, with a Rhys Darby-esque nerdiness accentuated by a quaint vaguely Midlands accent. It's impossible to not to feel a deep pang in your chest as the character absentmindedly returns to previously told sections of his tale and repeats his portentous catchphrases of, "But I digress," and, "What are we without our memories?"
Cole's faultless characterisation draws partly from experience and invention, with grandparents suffering from the memory loss disease. The rest, he told me, came from research, and I can only imagine how edifying it was when he was approached after the show by audience members with personal connections to the disease to express their gratitude for providing such an accurate account of the affliction. The game of Scrabble provides a fitting narrative device to tie together what could have seemed disparate elements, Cole using a carefully chosen assortment of tiles on the distinctive board to reassemble ongoing themes throughout the performance, along with some easy laughs from Derryn Hinch's Ultimate Guide to Winning Scrabble.
Blank Tiles skilfully manages what so many shows fail to even approach: a seamless balance of humour, pathos and personal expression that is also desperately clever and faultlessly executed. Cole intends to take this ironically memorable sleeper hit to the Edinburgh Fringe later this year, where it will surely be well-received after the Derryn Hinch references are adapted; including that of Hinchey's treatise on relationships, You Are So Beautiful.
There's something I wish I could forget.