I've been thinking again about the process of learning lines over the last few days. A few months ago I bought a little digital dictaphone, and have been using that to assist in learning lines for the play, The Mousetrap (as I also did for the previous play I was in, Shadowlands).
I find that while I have a certain ability to listen and learn, I'm much better if I've seen where on the page the lines lie, and remember that as well. Having that visual focus seems to make all the difference, especially when it comes to odd lines that are disconnected from any other dialogue I have. It's the single lines that pop up without reference to anything else I've said that I find hardest to place, and often they're the last ones to be learnt.
When there's a chunk of dialogue with just one (or maybe two) other cast members, it's much easier to get a handle on the lines, because in a sense, I just reel them off down the 'page' in my head. I get to a point where, with a sequence of lines, I can remember them almost as a single 'speech' - this helps, especially if the cues aren't quite right from the other person, or if they miss something out entirely.
The problem is, I think, that I don't tend to learn the cues for the odds lines well, because I don't particularly need to for the sequences of lines. Plainly I need to do some work on this aspect of line-learning for future productions - if I do any more!
My mother said my father (whom I don't remember at all) had a photographic memory. He was a top-class chess player in his day. I don't think I have a photographic memory particularly, but I do have a 'picture' of where lines are on a page - this applies whether I'm learning a poem, or a piece of scripture, or lines for a play. If I see the formation of them on the page my brain recalls them much better. That picture seems to be part of the learned process, in fact. So, while the dictaphone is very helpful, on its own it isn't enough. Lines learnt in isolation, as it were, don't seem to stick nearly as well as lines learned with a visual clue attached.
The photo is from the scene where my character, Paravicini, arrives and, in a somewhat theatrical fashion, informs the young couple running the guest house, that he is the 'man of mystery'. Photo from the Cortland Repertory Theatre, Ithaca.