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Up Down Boy – Brewery Theatre, The Tobacco Factory, Bristol

Writer: Sue Shields

Music: John O’Hara

Directors: Heather Williams &Gareth Machin

Reviewer: Jackson Lawrence


up_down_boyThis autumn, Myrtle Theatre’s international success, Up Down Boy, returns to Bristol’s theatre scene in their most recent tour. The play sees a nineteen year old boy named Matty about to say goodbye to his mother and the comforts of his childhood while packing prior to leaving for college. But Matty is more than a normal teenage boy because he has Down’s syndrome. It’s an intense exploration into more than just the mother’s empty nest syndrome but the mutual dependency that they have on each other. The production uses animation, dance, comedy and music to tell the touching story based on the real-life experiences of writer Sue Shields.

Nathan Bessell’s performance is thoroughly entertaining. He demonstrates a wonderful sense of comic timing which, coupled with his captivating use of facial expression, makes for a fully engaging characterisation. Bessell should be commended also for his dancing in this performance. This aspect of the production was crafted by choreographer, Michelle Gaskell, along with the efforts of choreographic mentor, Jonathan Lunn. Their sequences lend themselves to Bessell’s unique ability and are charmingly expressive. Bessell’s dancing conveys emotions that words simply cannot.

Bessel is a testimony to the fact that theatre is for anyone and everyone. Up Down Boy is a perfect platform on which he can demonstrate his multiple talents.

The piece is well written but perhaps could have benefitted from a more conclusive ending to the narrative which may have made the play more balanced. Compared to the rest of the show, the end of the piece seems a little under-developed. The play reflects the mother’s strength throughout her whole relationship with Matty and her unwaivering love and support of him and a more rounded finale may have reflected this personal tenacity more clearly. Shields’ writing is honest and from the heart. This dramatic study of Down’s syndrome comes from one of the most relevant sources possible – a mother. It is funny and charming and at the same time emotive.

The animation by Evil Genius is, quite simply, wonderful. It allows for an imaginative insight into the mind of someone with Down’s syndrome and is light and uplifting in an otherwise very intense play. It (along with the rest of the production) works in perfect harmony with John O’Hara’s effective yet non-invasive musical score. Both of these aspects of the production are brilliantly understated and enchanting.

Lead actress and director Heather Williams really makes the play her own. Her character often breaks into monologue or pensive reflection and Williams captures the attention of the whole audience with control and subtlety. In such an intense, introspective piece, she presents a fully convincing characterisation which invites the audience to bear the emotions of her character with her.

Yet again, Myrtle Theatre presents an engaging and witty piece which deals with a difficult subject through robust comedy as well as touching emotional exploration. It is no wonder that this play has had such success. It is not to be missed.

Runs until Saturday 26th October 2013.


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