An Excellent Incident

Once upon a time I designed a drama class for people with disabilities.

It was called “Finding Our Voices” because I realized that we very rarely, really  listen to them.

I had made a series of films for an agency who worked with people with intellectual disabilities.

I interviewed some of those disabled people for their perspective. People who had worked with these people, sometimes for many years, were taken aback to hear their thoughts and stories and memories.  When they were asked. “ Wow! I didn’t know that about Margaret!”

As a parent of an intellectually disabled person I know how easy it is to always be about time. Dinner time, bath time, bed time, move on, come here, go there.

Sometimes groups will perform “for” these people. Groups of Brownies wearing Santa hats and shouting “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” at them in order to earn a community badge.

But it’s not often these people are given a voice and listened to by the rest of us.

A massive step in the two-way relationship between theatre  and audiences of all people came with the introduction of “relaxed” performances for people like Claudia.

The Court Theatre here in Christchurch is especially good at this and I have written before about how much she loves these shows.

Like most of the audiences at these performances, she’s in excitement overdrive and far from relaxed. But the actors and crew are much more relaxed about their audience shouting and clapping at them in all the places they feel like it.

And now the Court Theatre has stepped up again by staging The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time.

It’s an adaptation from an amazing book by Mark Haddon.

A curious book, a conundrum of a book which is quirky and devastating. It’s both funny and tragic, full of knowledge and innocence about a confusing world which the central protagonist finds frightening in it’s disorder.

Christopher the hero and from whose perspective the story is told, is on the Autistic spectrum.

Like so many others my first thoughts were “How the hell are they going to stage that?!

How are we going to understand Christopher’s brilliant and baffling mind? How can they show us the mind of as person who responds to the world like Christopher does?”

I found out last night.

It’s a masterpiece of theatre, using all the modern devices of sound and lighting and audio visual material to take us right into Christopher’s head. And the actors were perfect. Just perfect. I cannot articulate how perfect they all were.

Tim Earl as 15 year old Christopher is faultlessly authentic. It’s an exhausting life and an exhausting performance and he’s mesmerizing. Mark Wright and Serena Cotton as Christopher’s parents were stunning. Just stunning.

This was more real than the book.

Right there in front of us we saw Christopher and understood him and saw what it is to parent someone like him. They got it so right.

In a packed theatre of ordinary theatre-going people, there were moments of utter, utter silence for long periods of silent realization.

I laughed, I cried, I stopped breathing often.

This cast did more for understanding Autism, appreciating Autism and why we need to understand and appreciate Autism than anything else I can think of.

Yes it’s that good. It virtually never happens that someone with a “disability” is the central character and also the voice of the story.

It will entertain you, haunt you and change you.

In the book Christopher says “feelings are just having a picture on the screen in your head of what is going to happen tomorrow or next year, or what might have happened instead of what did happen, and if it is a happy picture they smile and if it is a sad picture they cry”

You’ll have lots of feelings when you see this incredible production.

Thank you Court Theatre. I’ll be going again.