Autism is a topic that perhaps isn’t conversed about in the mainstream as often as it should be, and with the cries of controversy that new play, All In A Row, has received, it’s perhaps understandable. Written by playwright, Alex Oates, who cared for autistic children for over 10 years as a social worker, it has been criticised for using a puppet as the autistic character in the play.
It’s evidence of a problem in society in which social issues are treated as taboo, and the criticisms of this play may frighten other writers from broaching the topic of autism in plays and other media for fears of backlash.
This negativity aside, it’s been handled very well by Southwark Playhouse, the venue for this play, pointing out in a statement that some of the physicality of the role and the adult language within the play would have made this role inappropriate for a child actor, autistic or not. And one of its actors, Charlie Brooks, has wisely said that she hopes people will come and experience the play first hand before passing judgement, rather than sitting at home and being angry about it. Hear, hear.
The main positive? All In A Row is an excellent play, and does a brilliant job as a conversation starter. Laurence, the non-verbal boy with autism who forms the centre of the story, at no point feels dehumanised by the theatrical tool of puppetry, which is largely thanks to the excellent puppeteering and voice acting from Hugh Purves, who worked on Solo: A Star Wars Story.
That’s not the only stellar work here — Charlie Brooks (Eastenders, Wired) is Laurence’s mother, Tamora, and also a tech entrepreneur whose income mostly comes from giving motivational talks, rather than shifting units. As we see in the play, she’s confident and assured in her public speaking, but needs several tall glasses of wine to cope at home.