It felt like the softest of hands had reached out, intertwined its fingers with mine, and squeezed as if to say: we get it.
Patch of Blue theatre, alongside the National Autistic Society, are taking the path less-trodden. Using the sensory potential of theatre, a platform is given to girls with autism in this spine-tingling tale of finding connection where you least expect it.
As a sister to an autistic brother, I hold my breath when a yellow-coated girl and canine-like companion bounce into the queuing crowd to ask if they can tap my shoes. Then within the intimacy of the attic, taking in the projected seaside backdrops, multi-coloured lights, and euphorically soaring live music, this frozen breath seeps out in relief. They’d got it right.
We Live by the Sea is Katy’s story. Directed by Alex Howarth, this collectively devised production gives an innovative glimpse into Katy’s obsessive routines, literalism, and love for the colour purple as she navigates the overwhelming world around her, told through her blossoming friendship with a boy named Ryan.
The modestly masterful storytelling is warmly delivered by intelligent performances. Beating loudly at its heart, Alex Brain – playing Katy – is breath-taking. It is rare to see such an enchanting example of autism depicted so sensitively.
Orbiting around Katy, each character dips a toe in her world – providing a complete and honest picture of her life. We even hear the thoughts of Paul Williams, Katy’s best friend and imaginary dog, ingeniously brought to life by Lizzie Grace. This loyal partnership makes the joy which Katy finds in the kindness of Ryan – played by the charming Lloyd Bagley – even more endearing. With a smile that could heal a thousand hearts, he breaks down Katy’s barriers, fascinated by her remarkable honesty which mends his fractured, though brushed-over, backstory.
Providing the shade to Katy’s light is her sister, Hannah. Though worn from the difficulties of Katy’s condition, and left parentless by the seaside, Hannah exhibits an inspirational endurance in fighting for her sister’s cause. Alex Simonet subtly executes this complexity, moving with the uncertainty of both their futures.
The success of this production lies in spotting the difficult experience of autism echoing through the creases of its comforting fingers. Sea-deep and honestly-interpreted research renders We Live by the Sea an informative and special immersion into the lives of those shaped by autism.
Patch of Blue have created an uplifting wave, leaving behind beaming smiles, streaming tears, and a poignant message of the connections we can make when we use a ‘different kind of thinking’. This is my Fringe gem, a treasure that I will bury in the burning cockles of my heart.
We Live by the Sea is playing at The Attic in the Pleasance Courtyard until August 29. Patch of Blue have been invited to open the Fringe Encore Series 2016 at the Soho Playhouse in New York – and are currently crowdfunding for this. Find out more here.