Downs With Love – Assembly Roxy

Written by Suzanne Loftus

Photo Credit to Alan Peebles

Downs With Love is a frank, open conversation about the way we look at the capabilities, emotions and safeguarding of those with Down’s Syndrome; specifically, in the contexts of relationships. Abi Brydon plays a young woman named Beth. Beth is vivacious, independent and has intense happiness for life most of us would envy. Yet, she cannot even make a cup of tea without being asked: “Can you do that yourself?”

Her new support worker Tracy (Katy Milne) encourages Beth to venture outside more. Though fully capable of catering to her own day-to-day needs, Beth finds it challenging to engage in a world which has previously shown nothing but bullying and ridicule. On an outing to the pub, Beth makes a passing comment of a ‘special someone’ – a musician called Mark. She has a crush, yet so do Mark and Tracy. The two begin a relationship – hiding it from Beth – stating that while uncomfortable, it’s the best thing for her.

Following their successful Fringe run in 2017, Cutting Edge Theatre was awarded a People’s Project grant.This not only allowed for a touring production, but has also given then the opportunity of a wider audience and the chance to connect further with those living with learning disabilities. Suzanne Lofthus’s script is less designed to push the audience’s acceptance of Down’s and more concerned about questions of love, relationships and what we consider ‘acceptable’.

Brydon holds her own while onstage, with her performance given the respect deserving of a passionate performer. She captures the frustrations we all feel when we’re doubted, made to feel we aren’t capable of achieving anything. Working with writer and director Lofthus, she and Brydon base the character of Beth on many of Brydon’s own experiences growing up with Down’s Syndrome. Downs With Love documents the bullying, disappointments and fight to be acknowledged that Brydon herself has faced. Her closing monologue, which the entire production has been building towards, is a sublime, hard-hitting speech that encourages the audience to confront their own apprehensions around people like her.

Brydon wants to communicate her tires and frustrations with the odd glances and cruel words. More though, she addresses the issue of love and disability, an issue which causes unease in people. That there is no reason for her not to seek love and connection. One question she challenges us with is whether would we feel uncomfortable if someone with Down’s was to date someone without the condition? It’s a question Stephen Arthur’s character Mark has put to him, handling the subject in an admirable, if glossed over, manner.

Serving as the audience’s representative, so to speak, Milne and Arthur together offer natural and realistic individuals. Their decisions to not speak with Beth upfront, to pander to her emotions and frequently question Beth’s capabilities feel uncomfortably familiar. It’s an entirely human response to act overbearing when we don’t fully understand someone.

The choreography, while not entirely necessary, serves a clear theme of repetition and schedule. Scenes are dedicated to Beth’s insistence on routine; bathing, brushing her teeth, going to college, which all indicate a passage of time in the production. Gradually, the group movements evolve as Katie and Mark begin to grow closer, flirting and touching. Here movement plays a role, communicating the isolation Beth is reliving as the pair focus on themselves and not her.

Anyone with relatives or friends who have Down’s Syndrome will recognise the creativity in Downs With Love. A tremendous amount of feeling has been put into this production, by Brydon herself more than anyone. It wears its heart on its sleeve, taking chances but refraining from pushing its audience too far into uneasiness. An emotional piece, Downs With Love rightfully deserves its funding to reach a wider audience

Review originally published for Wee Review

Production touring:

What Girls are Made Of @ Traverse Theatre

Image Contribution:
Mihaela Bodlovic

Writer: Cora Bisset

Director: Orla O’LoughlinR

Can you smell the chippy? Visualise the iconic image of Patti Smith’s ‘looks could kill’ photo? What about the stale sweat of a grunge bands’ van? Well, after Scottish theatrical wonder Cora Bisset’s autobiographical gig What Girls Are Made Of you’ll have no issues doing so. The multi-layered performance sees Bisset’s history on a different stage, as the 17-year-old lead singer of Fife-born band Darlingheart. A Scottish band which shot for fame, only for its fingers to slip on the edges of glory.

Performed as a gig within a gig, Bisset starts off by offering a minimal background of information. Clippings of her early reviews found in the family home, but as much as this may be centred around Bisset, it rings of family, failure and growth – not only for her, but for all women.

In a manner which would make Patti Smith proud – no one is going to tell Bisset what to do, or what she is worth. Her performance is engaging, connecting immediately with the audience. Vocally, the pipes are still belting away with the deliverance of grunge edge with early Britpop tones. Aside from physical performance, the writing of What Girls Are Made Of is exceptional. Its subtlety is hidden amidst the emotional bricks hurled into the audience. Small touches, not even noticeable pelt like trucks when landed. Her sculpting of language, even in simple sentences, resonates audibly with the audience.

The plethora of encounters had by Bisset and her bandmates are caricatured by performers Susan Bear, Simon Donaldson and Harry Ward. On top of developing exaggerated personas of managers, famous musicians and old school chums, the trio performs as the live band. Talented – particularly Susan Bear, who some may recall as part of Glaswegian band Tuff Love. With Orla O’Loughlin’s energetic direction Ward’s characterisations from Cora’s mother to school bully is hysterical in dedication, yet emotionally developed.

Whilst a time capsule of Bisset’s experience with the band, What Girls Are Made Of serves the here and now. It crosses generations, despite its roots in the sweat-stained walls of grunge. Bisset has made her life accessible for the next generation. Those who have never (tragically) heard of Patti Smith, hell even those too young to recognise Radiohead are still communicated with. That mistakes, regardless of the pain, are inevitable. Mistakes shape our lives – arguably more so than success.

Just when the superficial surface of the production seems to be piling beyond the scope of biography, the pathos is sucker punched into the gut. It hits hard, harder than expected. Testimony to Bisset’s writing, as well as performance. This autobiography isn’t just the life of Cora Bisset as Cora Bisset – but as a woman. The shifting dreams she has had from the outlandish indie star to the wholesome and arguably simplistically human. Bisset spoke to a wide variety of people in the audience this evening, in particular, the women who have found themselves crying in the bathroom stalls, pounding their heads in musical bliss or standing defiantly against the crowds.

Success often pushes us forward; mistakes turn our heads back to where we came from. Cora Bisset utilises her past skills as an indie star to sculpt a form of gig – theatre to tell her story marvellously. What Girls Are Made Of is a sharing lesson of female resilience, coming to grips with failure and remembering our families. More though, as a piece of theatre it is performed adeptly with a myriad of impressive techniques through capable people. And from one Fifer to another, Bisset made me miss Kirkcaldy. A sentence never before put to print.

What Girls Are Made Of at the Traverse until April 20th. Continues on tour:

Review originally published for Reviews hub: