It was the body language of the audience that proved the power of this play. There were those at Theatre Severn last night who clearly had personal experience of autism amongst family or friends. They smiled, murmured, leant forward, cried and laughed out loud at readily recognisable moments …. whilst the rest of us were simply wrapped up in a modest but deeply moving story, so beautifully told.
The writing is simply exquisite. The framing of the play is masterful. The jumbled time shifts are so expertly and clearly delivered, J B Priestley would have approved. And the whole show is blessed with two young actors who know exactly what they are doing.
A lone, bored, student-aged girl is sitting in a hospital waiting room whilst her mother dies next door. She will have to quit Uni. to look after her 18-year-old brother. But he’s going to be a handful … because he’s autistic.
Author Ella Carmen Greenhill has personal experience of autism and it shines through her script. So she can offer actor Jamie Samuel complete authenticity as he creates his portrayal of Mikey. It’s a finely balanced blend of humour and hurt. Both he and his sister Rose – an equally heartfelt portrayal by Remmie Milner – are having to deal with their impending loss; she from a common sense perspective and he from the viewpoint of a separate reality. She’s increasingly stressed by the looming responsibility. He’s protected by his emotional oblivion.
“We must light a candle for her”, she says. “Why”, asks Mikey; after all it’s not dark. And when he hears the doctor saying, “Your mum’s a fighter”, he quite reasonably assumes she’s been making trouble.
Rose meanwhile is trying hard to cope with the plasticity of NHS concern. Greenhill gives her a startlingly well-observed monologue about that standard, wan smile you are faced with when the staff struggle too. “Do they train you to smile like a Cheshire Cat?”
It’s all very touching and involving; sensitively pushing home largely underexposed truths.
This “Box Of Tricks” production is a little chest of treasures and very well worth seeing. And I’d be very interested to see an Ella Carmen Greenhill play on a different subject.