It takes a bit of winding down side streets and being led through locked gates, but I’ve managed to find my way to the Network Theatre. It’s day one of the Vault Festival and the tunnels are abuzz with theatre, cabaret and comedy, and those who want to see it.
I’m here to see Thomas, a new play written by and starring Robbie Curran. Curran plays Thomas, a young man with Aspergers. He and his cousin David (Ben Lydon) have been best friends since childhood. As they struggle through the ups and downs of youth and into manhood, Thomas explores the experience of living with this often misunderstood condition, and the challenges it poses both in life’s milestones and in the everyday.
The stage design by Esteniah Williams is clever and clean. Two chairs become a sofa, car seats and a bed. Two cardboard boxes hold all the props needed during the performance.
Director Lucy Foster manages to create a relaxed performance, which has all the emotional turmoil of a West-End drama. The way transitions in time are woven into the action is highly commendable. These can be jarring, but Foster proves a dab hand at letting the scenes flow into each other without tearing us out of the immersion, a feat aided by lighting designer Holly Ellis and sound designer Annie May Fletcher. The change of colour in lighting helps to emphasise the mood. It is particularly impactful when all sound falls away or the music becomes warped and distorted during a party scene.
What is truly special about this performance is that we don’t just see the hard work and time put into the play, but also the real-life experience which has poured onto the stage. Thomas is a little all over the place, but in all the right ways. Curran and Lydon act so naturally together, you could believe they are real-life cousins. They display both humour and sadness with raw emotional depth and create a relationship of loving competitiveness and the need to be understood.
Rounding off the cast is Amanda Shodeko, who gives an extremely versatile performance in that she plays every other role in the play. The way she transforms from girlfriend into drug dealer and a nervous training course participant is impressive, and brings a comedic lightness to the story which never feels overdone or out of place.
Thomas is a well refined debut play with a cast that doesn’t miss a beat. Above all it is a play with a huge heart, and tells a story universal to everyone… even the “normal” ones.
Thomas is playing at The Vaults until 27 January as part of the VAULT Festival. For more information and tickets, visit the VAULT Festival website.