Yesterday was one of the best days I’ve ever had. You don’t hear that from me very often. The Life of Reilly play was on at The Northern Stage one of my favourite theatres. It was sold out completely and in hindsight we should have booked 2 nights.
Alison picked me up at 9am to take the props to the theatre. It’s not a big grand set, it’s actually an eclectic mix of household items pulled together to look like a well lived in family home with its assortment of discarded toys, washing and the odd bra.
I loved lurking around behind the scenes. I did NOT love having to play Reilly’s part in the tech and rehearsals. Standing under the spotlight reading out these lines to an empty theatre in my usual squeaky, irritating tone. How do they do it? Give me tonsilitus any day over acting. I sat on a marshmallow teacake ready for the party scene, stood on another and trailed it around the perfectly painted pitch black floor. Page 28 of the script stuck to said marshmallow on shoe and followed us. Awful. I’ll stick to being bossy and irritating. I did serve my purpose though and it was quite exciting despite epic cringe levels.
It’s old hat for Alison. Her last play Bedsock’s and Secrets about dementia was outstanding. It had a spell at the Edinburgh fringe as well as many theatre’s and was eventually snapped up by the NHS trust to be used as a training tool. She’s super-talented and has done an exceptional job here with The Life of Reilly – writing, producing and acting. You know from the opening seconds that it’s been written by someone in the know and that just continues to gather substance throughout. Real scenarios experienced by real people. I have to admit I love the numerous ‘meetings’ between myself, Kelly and Alison discussing funny, heartbreaking, sad, happy; incredible things that have happened between us over a traditional breakfast (I’m sometimes Farmhouse because I’m greedy). Autism Mama’s who get it, who live it and want you to get it too.
I love sitting in the audience watching peoples reactions to the play. There is always tears, there is always some swearing (just a little bit), there is always laughter and there is always a standing ovation (I know it’s just the second time it’s been done shhhhhh). The tech guys even had a tear at the back of the house.
Now i’m not being biased. If I had seen this produced by any other company I would give it the best review and the highest star rating simply because the acting is brilliant, it is an accurate portrayal of many of our lives (see ‘Joanne’ politely discussing the school transport issue with the Council) We’ve all done it. The characters are lovable even the old bag Granny Mary and it educates most importantly.
Between acts 1 & 2 I talked to people to gather their thoughts. They were blown away. I talked to a lady sat on her own at the back who had bought the last ticket. That lady was a GP on the Northern Stage’s mailing list and on seeing the content thought she SHOULD see it and I agree. Every GP, teacher, police officer, nurse, therapist, social worker, teaching assistant, sibling, grandparent – you see where i’m going with this.
It’s a small cast and it works perfectly.
We have Kris Roberts who plays Reilly.
Kris plays it so well you can feel his struggle and vulnerability as a child but his humour shines through in just the right places.
Alison Stanley plays Joanne Reilly’s Mam.
Fierce, reads everything, challenges everyone and takes no shit. Joanne is me, Joanne is every Mam that knows what an EHCP is, Joanne is every Mam that lies awake at night wondering what happens when she dies.
Steve Woods from Act2Cam plays Ged Reilly’s Dad.
Ex military turned doorman who fears he isn’t good enough and keeps his fears and emotions bottled in. His parts break my heart in two. If you know Steve you know why.
Marce Gaygaskell plays Granny Mary.
Sarcastic, blunt without an ounce of empathy. I find her parts hilarious and she has some of my favourite one liners.
Warren Simpson plays Clarkey Geds best friend and fellow doorman.
Tries his best and puts his foot in it everytime its open. Prone to the odd swear word, a can of red stripe and a pizza.
and then there is Scott Ritchie.
We auditioned for an actually autistic actor to play Reilly’s friend Craig, we did that because it makes sense and because well we scream for inclusion yet hadn’t included ourselves, the cast have learned from him and his opinion has been invaluable. He did an amazing job of which he should be extremely proud. I would not, could not have the courage to stand on that stage and lay bare how being autistic makes him feel. How he feels it through the fibres in his clothes, on his skin, to the bones. Scott even had some amazing video messages of encouragement from amazing actors Morven Christie, Richard Mylan, and Kacey Ainsworth.
I know Alison will be looking to work on more projects with actually autistic people – there’s some incredible talent there.
Their characters progress throughout the performance with understanding and acceptance that their lives are the same but different and you will love them all, including Granny Mary.
When the play ended there was a standing ovation which was truly deserved. I feel like the audience really feel like they’ve been on the same journey. To be fair a lot of the audience already have or are going through it now.
So we love it, the audience loves it, the guys at the Northern Stage loved it so it would be only fair that it happens all over again. Please watch this space for the next date. You will not be disappointed and I will guarantee you will learn something.
Autism isn’t going anywhere. Why should autistic people have to take years to learn to adapt to fit in what is perceived to be typical. To surpress how they want to express for fear of persecution because it’s not ‘normal’. WTF is ‘normal’ anyway. Understand it and be more accommodating as humans.
Proud to be a part of it all and thankful I have these people in my life. xx