|Posted on July 27, 2013 at 9:50 AM|
Review of Matthew's Passion (AKA Always question what you think you know about autism)
Whilst there has been many films, books and documentaries on Autistic Spectrum Conditions about, which look at the issues surrounding those diagnosed, very rarely has any awareness made it onto the stage and actually exercised the limits of Autistic characters into new and complex scenes that interact with the audiences senses (not to mention perceptions)..... Until now
Matthew's Passion is the theatre production held from Wednesday 24th to Saturday 27 July 2013 at the Sherman Theatre, looking at the life of a church family with a son named Matthew, whose interest in birds and relations with his community is challenged by unfolding events around him that is vivid for the audience to get a true "autistic eye" for the scenes as they progress - This eye-level above all is what sets this production apart from others into a well choreographed and freely-flowing performance, as well as always making sure the audience is questioning at all times what is really going on throughout, always daring to take the situations Matthew's character has to face to new levels.
Even as an autistic adult myself, I was faced upon first entering the theatre with a mirror of myself. As if without direction as people were getting seated to enjoy the performance, I was immediately bombarded by the sound of birds and smoke filling the room like morning dew fog, and as if it were just a typical day our protagonist Matthew is sat listening and patiently observing a countryside setting that was being formed - well before the suggested "start" of the performance.
The actor playing him maintains this characteristic throughout, which added a realism and consistency that never disappears til the end despite the apparent mundane simplicity of his routine - The character from the off is so refreshingly alive, as if passively shouting at the world "I'm fine thanks - I don't need you".
At this point, if it were not for the conclusion of all the events he's about to face from those around him, then I'd would have been happy to conclude it there. However, the events that follow are so dramatic that we almost feel like we know him and want the simplistic calm he brings us to never end.....
At the start of the performance, we are presented with the supposedly "perfect" rural church community that his parents and their friends live in: This is a veneer that peels off scene by scene - all the while Matthew maintains with dedication his routine, which is interrupted every now and again by his family who want him more involved in their "perfect" world and following the footsteps of his father in the church.
Inevitably the Protagonist and the antagonistic outside world is doomed to repeat an initial comedy of errors and misjudgements, which is further complicated by the intervention of a suggested visitor (Martin) that has been brought in to help Matthew broaden his interests and assist his understanding through music.
It is made obvious that this "perfect" community that Matthew is increasingly encouraged into is about to fracture - the only constant still being Matthew's routine that perpetuates regardless.
His professor-like understanding of birds that is his only basis for what is happening around him may sound vague and naive, but like a good poet, is far better at explaining the where what how and why of each situation, even if the other characters cannot attune themselves to hear his often cryptically wise words. The truth of the matter is that you see that he listens far more to the community he lives in, far more than they ever do for him - even life altering decisions are plucked cruelly from him just because his community thinks he isn't even part of the scenes playing out.... but he always is in one form or another still observant and very real.
The other characters lives are in upheaval:
- The reverend father who has looked through rose-tinted lenses without care until now, finally coming to terms that he was selfish and naive all along...but maybe not in any deliberately obsessive way (suggesting he may well be more like Matthew in many ways, trying to find that calming routine in his life through his preisthood work)
- The mother, who despite secretly wanting to up and leave Matthew and his father, is drawn to realise that she should have done more to find her own calming routine and followed her heart to find happiness through her son, but is too late to stop losing everything she teasures.....
- The lay-preecher: Whilst being caring and devoted to her work is sometimes overpowering and completely overlooks the impacts of her actions, as she thinks that will provide some routine to the community, despite the fact that events in her life are decidedly worse than that of the community she serves (and they don't really think much of her either - providing some of the most comical scenes in the entire production)...
-The visitor Martin: Whose life is also uprooted by the "perfect" community that he entered into, forcing him out of a strangely familiar routine to escape the chaos ensuing, and ousted from Matthew's life, where Martin provided him the only real help understanding and joining in the crazy world around him. His voice is the one we hear to retell this drama with painful reflection...
(I know what you're thinking, yes, I did mention "routine" in all 4 character overviews - because it displays itself as a primary goal of all characters - the goal that only Matthew has perfected with seamless ease until now...)
With his community's world in pieces and the future uncertain and scary for the new discoveries he made, he clings on mortally to hope: and for the last time, he goes into his calm, always constant routine:
Then we're hit with a big shock when the routine mutates into action, where every face in the audience turns to shock, and as a mother realises too late the love for her son, as this correct but naive young professor puts his theory into mortal practice......
routine and calmness is replaced by silence more unpleasant than the loudest sounds, and with it a part of the world Matthew was always part of disappears forever like a bird on the wind.....
In conclusion, the acting was fantastic from the off, the portrayal was extremely engaging and 3-Dimensional, the comic relief elements were deliciously deceiving plotlines that added to the unfolding drama, the use of multi-scene acts in the performance added both depth and a unique view that expanded for the audience events as they happened, the use of similes and literalism between the conversations with Matthew and the rest of the cast showed clearly the difficulties that both Aspies and "normal" people have to overcome and compromise around on a daily basis to make their lives work together. Above all, unlike other portrayals in film and tv in the past, the accurateness of our principle character and protaganist was both faithfully accurate, endearing and especially LIVING - A living, breathing and observant autistic individual - An actor that performs so well his role that he makes you forget he's a performer and more like any other human being on the spectrum (I had to pinch myself to not feel naturally uncomfortable with someone who would act very similar to myself - but this only added to the enjoyment and realism of the performance) It was also convincing right up to his rather unexpected demise that continued the comedy of errors to a heart wrenching conclusion, leaving always a question: Are we the ones who are right or is he right? A question and dillema that will continue to be asked well beyond that night, haunting those supposed "experts" in society that think that they know what Autism is - and for that, I thank the performers, the writers, to the National Autistic Society who were on hand in the foyer with information leaflets to educate the public as they saw the performance, and to my fellow aspies who inspired the work of Mike James who with the whole production team made this all possible. You have set the standard for further works of this kind and for that I salute you
David Malins CertHE