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Plastic Figurines at the New Diorama Theatre – Review

Plastic Figurines by Box Of Tricks at New Diorama Theatre
Plastic Figurines by Box Of Tricks at New Diorama Theatre – Photo Credit: Richard Davenport

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.

5 Star Rating

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


1 thought on “Plastic Figurines at the New Diorama Theatre – Review”

  1. This is a tangential point, but the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time now denies that his book was ever intended to be about autism, is apparently very uncomfortable when people use it as a textbook, and admits he did no research for it. The National Theatre, when questioned directly about whether Christopher Boone is autistic, argue that since he never defines himself beyond admitting to some ‘behavioural problems’ any possible interpretation that audience can have of the character is valid – the fact that they mention autism on their site around sixteen times is obviously sheer incompetence on their part. These quivering denials are just as well, as many real autistics loathe the story as spreading some of the worst myths about autism, in that Boone is violent, unempathic and his very existence unravels his parent’s marriage. If you’d like to learn more about autistic reactions to the book, click this link goo.gl/cD0NCm.

    I have no idea whether this particular play is good or accurate, but I’ll note a similarity with Burning Bridges in that the story seems to be centred around how an neurotypical deals with an autistic sibling. Narratives about how difficult it is to coexist with an autistic relative come across as self-indulgent whinging when you’ve been living with a lifetime of sexual frustration, employment discrimination, chronic bullying and an almost cosmic sense of alienation. If you want to see a really bad example of this sort of whining, look at the Jodi Piccoult book House Rules sometime.

    Hopefully this recent theatrical interest in autism stories will result in shows written and staring autistics to achieve critical acclaim. There’s a few autistic people putting on shows – there’s A_tistic Theater downunder and Cian Binchy seems to be a name to watch. Personally, the play about autism I’d like to see is a big Broadway adaption of the Blues Brothers. Dan Ackroyd says he has Asperger’s and the character he played in the film certainly acted like it, always wearing suits and sunglasses, being dedicated to the blues and overall weird. I wouldn’t watch it for the autism, mind you, but for the music.

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