All in a Row – Southwark Playhouse, London

Writer: Alex Oates

Director: Dominic Shaw

Reviewer: Heather Deacon

All any writer can wish for is to ignite impassioned debate with their script and all a producer could wish for is that the production furthers that debate. Given the protesters outside of the Southwark Playhouse on Monday evening, All in a Row is doing just that, with a play that delves into the mindset and melancholy of parents with a severely autistic eleven-year-old child, Laurence, represented, somewhat controversially, by a puppet.

It is certainly a performance that quite purposely brings up as many questions as answers. Written by Alex Oates, who spent many years looking after children with autism, All in a Row explores the relationship of Martin, Tamora and their son, on the eve of their son being enrolled in a home for children with special needs, some 200 miles away. The serious subject matter is broken up by humour from the pair, with Martin’s exhaustive sexually charged ramblings bringing his unique coping mechanism – of talking so fast he doesn’t have time to think or feel – more and more into the light.

Simon Lipkin as Martin is particularly endearing here, rough yet articulate in his crude-ness and sweetly genuine in his emotion. Charlie Brooks (known for playing Janice from Eastenders) is less convincing as the highly-strung entrepreneur Tamora, though she is warm in her motherly duties and has a careful pace that suits her wine-swilling character. You feel for the pair, even if they’re often not very nice to themselves, each other, Laurence or the long-suffering carer Gary. Michael Fox perfectly portrays Gary with the practicality of someone not unconditionally and involuntarily emotionally involved, as the parents would be. His reactions to the ridiculousness of the constant mentions of his cat, probes into his love life and the sensitive situation, in general, brings the very emotive and tragic play down to earth.

As for Laurence and the puppet. “The autistic child is played by a puppet” doesn’t sound good, granted. However, the result of this decision is certainly one to watch before judging and even more certainly the lesser of many evils. Oates reportedly always knew a puppet, designed by Siân Kidd, would be used for Laurence and for good reason – Laurence isn’t a character a person could play (neurotypical or not) as his autism is so particular and at times, violent. The production is also about the situation, rather than about Laurence himself. His decisions and thoughts are barely considered because they simply cannot be communicated and that is almost the point and the tragedy of the piece.

Every inch of this innovative production is meticulously thought through, including Dominic Shaw’s careful and sensitive direction and PJ Envoy’s simple, symmetrical set. Whether the right conclusion was found after that thought process is for the attending audience to decide.

The enjoyable and emotive play is a window into a world without red tape to guide you as to what is right and wrong, and the unromantic notion that love will always get in the way, for the better… or for the worse. A powerful evening.

Runs until 9 March 2019 | Image: Nick Rutter


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  1. This play dehumanises autistic people, uses them as the butt of jokes and portrays a tragedy narrative that is deeply harmful. Thousands of people have signed a petition and voiced their concerns yet you don’t seem to care about that in your review.

  2. I think you nailed it with this excellent quote:

    “Laurence isn’t a character a person could play (neurotypical or not) as his autism is so particular and at times, violent. The production is also about the situation, rather than about Laurence himself. His decisions and thoughts are barely considered because they simply cannot be communicated and that is almost the point and the tragedy of the piece.”

    You just stated in three concise sentences the exact reasons autistic people are protesting this play.

    First sentence:

    Addresses the peculiar belief that violence on stage could not possibly be achieved by humans. Has no one ever seen Titus Andronicus? I’m pretty sure the stage fighting I learned in Grade 10 would be enough to simulate an eleven year old child in the midst of a meltdown. I see my friend’s kid go through them often. I promise I could imitate that just fine.

    And after all, wasn’t the puppet manned by a human actor? All of this “couldn’t be done by an actor”when in fact… it was…

    Second Sentence:

    Autistic people are continually frustrated by the subject of autism being discussed without their inclusion. This is such a common thing for autistic people to experience that we have a refrain: “nothing about us without us”.

    It is so frustrating for us to see yet ANOTHER piece of writing which is more about the parents than about the child. It isn’t refreshing. It’s the norm. Google stories about autism and the majority are written by parents, not the children themselves.

    Third Sentence:

    “His decisions and thoughts are barely considered…” once again perfeclty summarizes the autistic experience. People assume that non-verbal autistics cannot understand what is happening around them and they often speak about them as if they are not there. Decisions are made without consulting them. Does anyone even sit down with Laurence during the play and explain what is happening?

    “…because they cannot be communicated” – this is SO allistic. If someone cannot communicate their feelings, allistics don’t consider them. Why should someone’s feelings not be considered just because they can’t communicate? I consider my CAT’S feelings and he can’t talk either. Furthermore, if that puppet was moving, Laurence WAS communicating. You mentioned he gets violent. That violence was communication. If he flaps, if he makes sounds, if he does things, HE WAS COMMUNICATING. But allistics think that if you can’t speak out loud, you don’t have thoughts or feelings.

    Thank you for summarizing all of our problems in such a concise way. Well… not summarizing so much as admitting them.

  3. “Laurence isn’t a character a person could play (neurotypical or not) as his autism is so particular and at times, violent.“

    Hit the nail on the head. If a “person” can’t play the part, then the part wasn’t written for a human being. This mentality confirms the Autistic community’s concerns that the play is dehumanizing a group of people- human beings that are autistic. People can play people, because they are people.

  4. I am part of an entirely autistic theatre company. Stealth Aspies. Every member could play Lawrence, at different ages of his life. We have a 23 year old, 35, 40, 50 and myself at 55. We could all play Lawrence because we all have empathy for him as another autistic person.

    You go and spend time with such people, then you discover yourself with your autistic nature on top of you. It’s simple for us.

    The statement that no one could play the child is nonsense and a lie. As has been pointed out, it was played by a human in the first place. Did they bring a puppeteer in because he was used to animal puppets?

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