What I (Don’t) Know About Autism – Abbey (Peacock Stage) – Review
1 – 8 February 2020
A Jody O’Neill and Abbey Theatre co-production, in association with The Everyman and Mermaid County Wicklow Arts Centre
This play challenges a variety of widely held ideas about what it means to be Autistic. It brings the audience inside the lives of those with Autism, along with their family and friends. From the problems associated with loving but overzealous parents to those that will literally do anything to try and ‘cure’ their child. Some of these ideas and treatments seem barbaric but many were used until quite recently. There was also mention of the dangerous anti-vax movement who believe that vaccinations cause Autism. The audience is brought on a whistle-stop tour through the condition and the problems associated with it.
The play is broken into 23 scenes. Each of these segments is written on a flip chart at each side of the stage. As the actors finish a scene they draw a line through the topic, allowing the audience to know exactly where they are in the performance. This is one of a number of allowances that have been made for the Autistic members of the audience. It is a relaxed performance, so the audience are able to talk if they so wish. They are able to leave the theatre and return as they please. There were also warnings before the scenes that contained loud noises or flashing lights. There were even two occasions where the cast allowed the audience to ask questions on anything they’d seen on stage, like a mini Q&A session during the performance.
The cast is made up from autistic and non-autistic actors. The writer Jody O’Neill was one of these actors and the play was inspired by her own life experiences with autism. While most will know in a general sense what Autism is, many of these ideas are taken from films such as Rain Man. Hollywood is not the best source of information on a topic and ideas such as Stimming and Neurodiversity will be new to most. There was also a human element to the story, as we meet one character who is trying to find love on Tinder!
At the end of the performance, the audience was told not to clap as the loud noise could affect those with Autism. Instead, we were encouraged to wave our hands in the air! The play contains many new ideas and insights into a condition few know or truly understand.
Cork, The Everyman: Tue 11 – Thu 13 Feb
Bray, Mermaid Arts Centre: Sat 15 Feb
Cast: Shay Croke
Cast: Paula McGlinchey
Cast: Jayson Murray
Cast: Jody O’Neill
Cast: Matthew Ralli
Cast: Eleanor Walsh
Writer: Jody O’Neill
Producer: Melissa Nolan
Director: Dónal Gallagher
Choreographer: Cindy Cummings
Set and Costume Design: Medb Lambert
Lighting Design: Eoin Winning
Composer and Sound Design: Carl Kennedy
Stage Manager: Cian Mulhall
Assistant Stage Manager: Shannon Cowan
PR: Dairne O’Sullivan
Graphic Design: BLAM