Joshua (and Me)

Rachel Hammond
Blackpool Grand Theatre Studio

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Rachel Hammond in Joshua (and Me)

‘Relaxed performance’ has come to mean theatre’s way of widening its audience appeal to anyone usually challenged by lights, sound and action.

And that can run the gamut from autism to Alzheimer’s.

Here, writer, composer and producer Rachel Hammond—the Me of the play’s title—focuses on life with an autistic brother in a semi-autobiographical monologue. Performed in her home town of Blackpool, it’s very much one from the heart.

In a thoroughly engaging, inventive and honest 65 minutes, she invites her audience to share a family’s life, negotiating the unique structures that define a sibling’s condition.

She’s not the first to tackle the subject, but her approach, starting from that of a wide-eyed seven-year-old struggling to fit in with Joshua’s rigid routines and lifestyle, she creates a colourful landscape of coping strategies, and comedy.

It’s sometimes tough, more often tender.

As an accomplished musician, and beat-boxer, she’s also able to lay down the live soundtrack that becomes part of her brother’s repeated mantra.

It’s an effect that enhances, but never distracts from a vital story.

Her narrative is also not afraid to touch on the cruelty of strangers towards Joshua, or the emotional toll, and ongoing responsibility, his autism inevitably imposes on a mother and her other son.

Director Lucy Jane Atkinson keeps the movement nimble while Sophia Beeby (sound) and Carly Altberg (design) aid the play’s authenticity.

Joshua (and Me) has already been warmly-received in London and Edinburgh and completes a tour of several other cities through this week. It obviously attracts an enthusiastic familial and hometown welcome in two sold-out performances here, and is ideally-suited to the black-box space above the Grand’s main auditorium.

But it would also enhance the curriculum of any far-sighted educational establishment and in its short, sharp dose of drama gives any audience a lesson in acceptance.

Reviewer: David Upton