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 https://theweereview.com/review/downs-with-love/

Production touring: http://cuttingedgetheatre.co.uk/portfolio/downs-with-love/

Sherlock Holmes and the Sign of Four @ The Brunton

Video contribution: Blackeyed Theatre

Based on the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Writer & Director: Nick Lane

Missing jewels, murder, romance and a chap with a wooden leg. If it wasn’t Sherlock Holmes, it would have to be something equally as impossible. Sherlock Holmes and the Sign of Four has our residents of Baker Street encounter Watson’s future wife Mary Morstan as they hunt for treasure, clues and the truth.

So recognisable, playing Sherlock Holmes is demonstrably difficult. We all know them; we all have a favourite. It’s a challenge Luke Barton certainly does not shy from. His Holmes is energetic, more so than many. He has a charm, a warmth unfamiliar with some portrayals and a command which wouldn’t be questioned by any character on stage. Overall his Holmes has elements of a classic, yet fresh-faced Holmes hungry for more. The issue though, in no fault of Barton is that this Holmes has been written quite immortal. There’s no folly, nothing which pricks a hole in his character. We don’t doubt this Holmes can solve the case. He isn’t overly curious like Vasily Livanov’s Holmes or has the detached sociopathic failings of the recent Cumberbatch.

Holmes is nothing without Dr Watson, though he would be loathed to admit it.  Here we are no different, with a tremendous amount of the production’s success owed to Joseph Derrington. He has an innate likability; we connect quicker with Watson than we do Holmes – as we should. His comedic timing as our storyteller is spot on, breaking the chunks of dense narrative to ease our minds.

So, what of the mystery itself? Adapted from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s second novel focused around the Detective of Baker Street, The Sign of Four is far from straightforward. It requires a lot of exposition, time and narrative shifts but attempts to make up for this amidst an emphasis on adventure. Blackeyed Theatre succeeds in retelling a faithful version of events, still branding it with their own take. The final fifteen minutes, however, the motivation behind the crime edges on length, almost stretching into the pages of a different story entirely.

From the sharp peaks of the London steeples to the rounded carvings of Indian turrets – Victoria Spearing’s set design is enthralling. At first, it appears sharp, hollow but serving its purpose. What appears to just be backdrop though, unfolds twisting into a variety of locales. When cast in distinctive lighting, the unfriendly grey of London mellows into the richness of India. It’s a resourceful design which works not only with physical movement but with the tech of the production itself.

What first seems to be an inherent advantage for Blackeyed Theatre is the original composition by Tristian Parkes. It allows for a sense of freshness. We are treated to live performances from cast members currently not on stage. Though of course *ahem* gifted with young Sherlock’s early attempts to master his Stradivarius, his signature violin. With light notes they convey a wisp of time floating around Holmes’ deduction. To the soft strings of the continents, this all helps with world building. That said, the brass instrumentals, in particular, the trombone, hit heavily in a smaller venue, casting any other instrumentals aside.

No matter what the future may hold for us, Sherlock Holmes is likely to always sit at the heart of mystery lovers across the world. Blackeyed Theatre has prevailed in putting their stamp onto the deerstalker, with an atmospheric production with no short supply of talented individuals – even with the intricate plot points and lengthy climax.

Review originally published for Reviewshub:
https://www.thereviewshub.com/sherlock-holmes-and-the-sign-of-four-brunton-theatre-musselburgh/

Production Touring:
http://www.blackeyedtheatre.co.uk/