Alphabetti Theatre, 2nd February 2023
Perhaps a tiny fragment such as this is contains the ocean, the ocean of all of us. This was the most moving theatre experience I have ever had.
It’s the story of Elsa, a young woman of some very specific particularities relating to the autistic spectrum. Like so many women and girls though this is not diagnosed (and yet so many misunderstandings are offered). The performance through well chosen, beautifully acted and wonderfully written vignettes introduces us to Elsa and her difficulties. We learn of factors that may have impacted their origin, we learn of how it has shown itself through her social interaction and how it has shaped her. We get to know her and the glass ceiling of limits no one was explaining and yet almost everyone may seem to enforce. Her experience of difference, being misunderstood, her exclusion and isolation is powerful as her journey develops. If these issues impact you you may wish to be aware of possible triggers – but I highly recommend it.
So much of the production is light, humorous and playful. An attractive, very green set. Playful interplay and nods to the performance itself in the interactions of the characters (such as mum sometimes wanting to be part of things Elsa does not want). We’re given headphones for our sound experience with channel options that allow us to hear it at differing levels of intensity, as it totally appropriate for how an audience may experience this.
We follow Elsa through school, through puberty, to university. How she is very clearly encouraged to define herself basically as a ‘freak’. And how no one seems able to get hold of this or appreciate it. Then into the jobs world. Finally there are some green shoots and then she meets Carmen who really gets her – and then perhaps all we’ve been prepared for reaches a climax, can growth be sustained?
The final scenes of the performance had been so well prepared for in the rest. Another audience member spoke to me afterwards of being deeply moved by earlier parts, for myself this came together at the very end. I cried, I cried powerfully and could quite easily have wept uncontrollably in the best of ways at a theatre. In the round it is joyous, wonderful and profound – as I think it is profound when we realise the difference in process and experience neurodivergence may bring, that is totally invisible and has been so unknown to many. It may highlight our own process, taken for granted, the miracles of awareness. The depiction of the sensitivity Elsa experiences is a delight and a lesson.
A play with three heroines, and more behind the scenes in writing and production. The acting is superb with Hannah Genesius, Zoe Lambert and Yemisi Oyinloye. The play was written by Allison Davies who speak of her joy at the privilege of being part of it in her notes and explains how she allowed herself to “write with the brakes off” in its genesis. The set and lighting and sound are just right, attractive and helpful (I loved their continual small interplays with the set and each other and the set). You can name check all involved below. Such an effective production clearly also has debts to its Producers, Chloe Stott and Alphabetti Theatre, and Director, Karen Traynor, and the whole creative team.
The setting at Alphabetti Theatre may be no small part of the power of this performance, a wonderful intimate setting in which we are close to the performers. I know I was not alone in being so moved by this drama, for all its lightness and playfulness. Alphabetti recently won the Fringe Theatre of the Year Award from The Stage and move strongly onwards with this production.
I recommend it unreservedly, it seems unmissable to me, especially if you want to better understand experiences so often un-portrayed.
Written by Allison Davies
Directed by Karen Traynor
Designed by Verity Quinn
Performed by Hannah Genesius, Zoe Lambert and Yemisi Oyinloye
Produced by Chloe Stott and Alphabetti Theatre
Projection and Lighting Design by Simon Cole
Sound Design by Roma Yagnik
Production and Stage Manager Rachel Glover
Creative Associate Paula Penman
Dramaturgy by Laura Lindow
Assistant Stage Manager Rachel Stockdale
Filmmaker for Trailer John Slemensek
It runs at Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne until Saturday 18th February