Turbine Theatre, London – until 7 August 2022
Guest reviewer: Ely King
A-Typical Rainbow is a play written, and starring, JJ Green and produced by Aria Entertainment. The play will run at the Turbine Theatre until 7 August before hopefully being picked up to continue in a new location. This piece of theatre is extremely important and needs to be seen by as many people as possible, it has the possibility to change the theatre as we know it.
This unabashed, unapologetically authentic tale of growing up as Autistic and LGBTQ+ is both heart-warming yet heart-breaking. The way JJ has balanced the sweet and comedic moments with the hard-hitting truths of life is phenomenal.
From touching on socialising as a child, to retaining relationships as an adult, A-Typical Rainbow follows the life of ‘Boy’ as he receives his diagnosis, undergoes therapy and the life that he leads as a result of this.
As someone who is Autistic, I was both excited but also scared to see this production, I was scared that it would either be too close to home, or that it would portray Autism in a way that I didn’t relate to, but there was no need to be scared, this piece of art is one of the most true-to-life shows I have ever seen.
One memorable scene is where the Doctor turns to Boy and asks “How do you feel?” and Boy responds “I don’t” such a short piece of dialogue is so incredibly strong and meaningful – people often would rather people have no emotion at all rather than be ‘over’ emotional.
One thing that people need to know about Autism is that it is different for each individual person, whilst there are certain traits that will be more widespread or more well known, it’s not as simple as a checklist or a bingo card of symptoms, yet JJ seems to somehow cover this universal spectrum in a way that can only be described as magical.
I have never felt more ‘seen’ than I have whilst watching A-typical Rainbow. To me, this is what theatre is all about. It is powerful, it is thought-provoking, and it is what this industry needs.
This show will spark conversations that have the power to change how the industry treats disabilities – that is how important this play is.
Director Bronagh Lagan and set designer Frankie Gerrard have worked together to create a beautiful set that is so simple yet so incredibly effective. There is a set of boxes that never leave the stage, yet there are scenes in a school, by a pond, in a bedroom and even in a circus. The was this tiny stage has been transformed deserves all of the praise.
Throughout the show, the use of projections helps to give the ‘imaginary’ scenes that extra ‘oomph’ to allude to the magic, ethereal feeling that Boy feels whilst travelling through his imagination.
Alongside JJ Green as Boy, five other cast members help bring the story to life. James Westphal, Conor Joseph, Joy Tan and Maya Manuel are all incredible in the multiple roles they play throughout the show.
Highlights are Conor’s rendition of a court judge, Joy’s portrayal of loveable Thomas, and Maya’s impeccable depiction of repellent Emily.
Let’s not forget swing Jack Chambers who has to be prepared to hop on stage at a moment’s notice to play any of the main ensemble.
Other than JJ, the only other cast member who dedicated their energy to one role is Caroline Deverill who portrays a struggling mother who is just trying to do what’s best for her son whilst balancing family life and a strained relationship.
Caroline has multiple audience-facing monologues throughout the show that are tear-jerkers and left me in awe. It shows the difficult decision a mother goes through to decide what to do and when to do it, knowing that if it goes wrong – it’s all on her.
One thing that JJ has done perfectly, though, is the complete lack of blame. Whilst there are hints of the world being cruel, and schools being useless with bullying, overall there is no ‘blame game’, the struggles that Boy goes through are not the Mother’s, Father’s or Doctor’s fault – nor are they Boy’s, thems the breaks. (If you know, you know)
Using a quote from the show “he will get overwhelmed growing up in a world that isn’t built for him” the struggles aren’t down to one individual, it’s society as a whole. Yet, if more people saw this performance, I believe attitudes would quickly begin to change.
There are a plethora of details throughout the show that are so cleverly done, from Boy’s sensitivity to sounds and scents to his preference for comfy/baggy clothes and through to the repetitive use of his comfort song.
Regardless of the scene or wardrobe choice though, Boy constantly has a lock on a chain around his neck – this is never literally explained, it is down to the audience to give it a figurative meaning.
To me, the fact it was locked after starting ABA therapy, shows how the therapy caused him to hold back and lock away his true self in order to blend into society – regardless of what it was doing to him internally. As soon as the lock was placed on him, he was unable to reach his imaginary world anymore and his creativity was stunted, to see that lock get removed at the end was an emotional moment.
The raw emotion emanating from the talented cast is palpable and you can tell just how much this show means to them.
Do not miss this show, it’s at The Turbine Theatre until 7th August and tickets are only £25!
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