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You Know We Belong Together – Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room

Travelling home by train after seeing this most unusual play I was trying to think of adjectives to describe it. Heart-warming, whimsical, moving, funny, romantic, educational are just a few I came up with but none really do justice to this 70-minute piece of theatre.

Julia Hales. YKWBT. Photo by Toni Wilkinson.
Julia Hales. YKWBT. Photo by Toni Wilkinson.

Julia Hales, the playwright or deviser, is the principal actor, guiding the audience through her life story with a lightness of touch which is incredible for someone born with Down Syndrome. She says she is 38, still single and looking for love. In fact, the subplot of the play is love, which makes it very involving. Julia is onstage all the time, introducing her fellow actors one by one, all of whom were also born with Down syndrome. Lauren Marchbank tells us something about her life and loves, followed by Joshua Bott, a terrific dancer. Tina Fielding is a successful, busy Australian actress – in fact this is a totally Australian cast – and Mark and Melissa Junor are introduced towards the end of the play as a very happy 20-year married couple. When Julia runs out of actors, members of the audience are invited to act with her, for example in a scene from Home and Away, of which she has seen every episode, but has never seen someone with Down Syndrome in the soap – YET!

The play is given coherence by videoed interviews between Julia and others who have Down Syndrome discussing ‘love’ and what it means to them. Perhaps the most poignant is the final one in which a parent describes how she was nearly persuaded to allow her potentially Down Syndrome foetus to be aborted.

You Know We Belong Together is set in the famous diner at Summer Bay, regularly seen in Home and Away, and all the cast “make a show to help remind non-disabled people that those with Down Syndrome are complex and emotional people, like them.

The piece is cleverly directed by Clare Watson with Rachael Dease as composer and sound designer, occasionally too loud to hear the dialogue taking place at the same time. Michael Carmody is responsible for the superb videos – it was just a shame that too often members of the cast were sitting or standing in front of the screen so that it could not be fully seen.

This is a play which successfully mixes monologues, video, scenes, dances and song, the cast putting their own lives on stage, mixing their own experiences and personal day-to-day realities. It is an “uplifting show about love, loss, family , friendships and the frustrations and aspirations of living with Down Syndrome” and demands to be seen.

Highly recommended, the play tours to the Edinburgh Festival after London.

4 stars

Review by John Groves

Family, friends and lovers are all part of Julia Hales’ deeply personal account of her experiences as a daughter, actor, dreamer and person with Down syndrome.

You Know We Belong Together
18 –⁠ 19 Aug, 7.30pm, 20 Aug

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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