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