Such is the continued runaway success of the National Theatre production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time that a comparison is hard to resist when considering the themes drawn out in Plastic Figurines, though I hasten to add that the storylines are very different. Devoid from the complications of which parent is going out with whom, this is an even sadder tale, which sees Rose (Vanessa Schofield) looking after her younger brother Michael (Jamie Samuel) because there is nobody else, nobody to whom Michael can escape to if he feels things aren’t working out with regards to current living arrangements.
As Michael is astute enough to observe, his sister hasn’t got much of a life on account of him. It was never quite clear to me where on the autistic spectrum Michael was, as he demonstrates incredible insensitivity one moment and remarkable empathy the next. But it seemed to me that the play is stronger for this – there’s nothing wrong with not being able to neatly categorise someone who, irrespective of autism or anything else, is still very much human. The same can also be said of Rose, whose palpable frustration at her brother for not being able to see the underhand tactics of college bullies is nothing short of harrowing and hard-hitting.
On occasion Michael erratic behaviour verges on melodrama, without ever crossing the line. It is (deliberately) uncomfortable viewing. A lack of sentimentality on Michael’s part puts a surprisingly more pragmatic viewpoint across, and a most absorbing performance from Jamie Samuel had me spellbound and attentive. Vanessa Schofield’s Rose puts her emotions into words in the form of insightful soliloquies, and it’s clear the character is trying – really, really trying – to do her absolute best in difficult circumstances.
But the play seems to take its time, before suddenly exploding. I thought it was wonderful that a trivial, if ill-judged, event (as opposed to what I call a ‘critical incident’) proved to be the catalyst of a rush of passionate sentiments being poured forth from both characters. The sequence of events is not in chronological order, but the play is not unnecessarily complicated as a result, and it is never difficult to understand whether we are in the ‘present’ or in the ‘past’ at any given point. As the set is static, save for props, it is Richard Owen’s lighting design that should take credit for achieving such clear and precise perception of time, place and setting.
Much of the dialogue is very realistic, with interruptions, misunderstandings, talking over one another, all of which adds to the compelling nature of this remarkable piece of theatre. Such an incredible range of human emotion is experienced in just one act. One of those little shows that punches above its weight, there’s more than enough wit to be enjoyed in a show that is not quite so much about autism as it is about life.
Review by Chris Omaweng
“Mum told me that there was something in his brain that was different, she said that he liked to put his toys in lines and that was a symptom or whatever. I used to go in his room and see all his stuffed animals in a line and I’d mess them up. I’d mess the line up.”
Rose loves her brother Mikey. Mikey loves Rose, Bruce Willis films and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but he hates change. When their mum is diagnosed with leukaemia, their world is plunged into chaos. Rose returns home to find a very different brother to when she left. But today is his eighteenth birthday and Rose wants everything to be perfect but life with Mikey isn’t ever that simple.
Inspired by events in the playwright’s own life, Plastic Figurines is a funny and moving new play that explores autism and the relationship between siblings with very different views of the world.
PLASTIC FIGURINES By Ella Carmen Greenhill
27 September – 22 October 2016
New Diorama Theatre, 15-16 Triton St, London NW1 3BF
020 7383 9034
Box of Tricks
Twitter: @bottc #TricksTurns10
Facebook: Box of Tricks Theatre
Artistic Directors: Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder & Adam Quayle
Associate Producer: Amy Fisher