Brighton Fringe 2016
Tom J Page both writes and stars in this visceral play about autism and its pressures. STA Travel support this ensemble as does Eastbourne College which Page graduated from. Sweet St Andrew’s venue. Beth Stephens and Tim Cook act as dramaturges, Daniel Fathers as movement director.
Tom J Page both writes and stars in this visceral, sometimes harrowing but essentially feel-good play about autism and its pressures. STA Travel support this ensemble as does Eastbourne College which Page graduated from. And – there are goodie bags with chocolate brownies….
Adam doesn’t come down for tea; when he does, all he ever wants is cereal. All his work-oriented father wishes for is compliance, and younger son Oscar – set to discover his A Levels – to emerge from his father’s driving ambitions. These are naturally doubled since Adam’s not going anywhere: except the Bula Loop, travelling around the world, a freedom that continues to pursue him.
An arc of bickering, initiated by James, is one of the thrills of discovering a new writer who can really draw dialogue to a point. One thing James can’t abide for instance is Bryony next door, parents dead, continually joining them at table. It transpires she’s planning to take a year out of Exter Uni and take her friend Oscar with her on his own gap year – something James in a Gradgrind moment declares wholly unnecessary.
Bryony has the gift though of calming Adam, who never speaks till a third-way through the play. When he does, it’s a bravura series of personae – he’s a dog and has to be negotiated with in the third person. Or he launches on a fantastically remembered set of cannily-placed jingles to boost STA Travel and anything else germane to his own dream of coming along with Bryony, whom he’s developed intense attachment to. It starts funny, it ends in wrenching pathos.
Deborah Clair’s Elizabeth, the slighted mother coping with everything, is tested to familial fracture: first, with James’ orchestrating every row, then when Adam’s behaviour becomes increasingly violent, ending in a climactic scene. Clair’s performance is sovereign: every inflection telling. Grace Collett interacts well with Page, Clair’s gentle despairing arc of pleading and pain takes this a notch further.
The crisis is unexpected, the fruits of resolution shown in the final moments.
No director’s listed, but Beth Stephens and Tim Cook act as dramaturges, and this ensemble devising is fortunate to have Daniel Fathers as movement director, whose work is as it turns out, crucial.
Page’s dialogue – it’s a devised one but beautifully caught and naturalistic – is wholly accomplished. If I’m not convinced this play has taken itself as far as it could, there’s the hour limit and natural give of material. Page himself runs a gamut of shut-down hunkering and violent outburst, tender pleading eyes dead ahead, and a superb timing when it comes to displacement quotes.
Collett and George Tomsett’s Oscar turn in solid performances, Collett showing real potential. John Knowles’ James combines shooting the breeze of a clinched deal, souring fast to resentment when Elizabeth shows little interest, and utter incomprehension of his sexist portioning of earning whilst she does ‘nothing’ but ‘cavort yoga with Lesbian Lesley’ – as he taunts his wife. Indeed at one point you hope she elopes with her; perhaps she yet might. Knowles too can shade expression to a hurt boy’s, though he indulges in no magnificent clangour of wounded paternity. Clair’s consummate performance picks up everything around her – her listening is palpable – and swiftly dispatches solutions or escapes.
But it’s Page’s naturalistic play with its finely-judged crises and honed tight dialogue, and his embodying Adam, that steals the show. It’s one that should be performed widely, an uncannily truthful slice of living with this condition, and its outfall on one ‘normal’ family, a concept exploded here.