What: We Live By the Sea, presented by Joanne Hartstone with Patch of Blue and Greenwich Theatre
Where: The Black Forest at Royal Croquet Club
When: Two shows left! 2.00pm and 6.30pm, Sunday 19th March
This production from London theatre company Patch of Blue is a little theatrical gem: a tender, challenging and heart-warming story about the friendship between a 15-year-old girl with autism, her long-suffering older sister and a troubled young newcomer.
Katy (Alex Brain) is fifteen and lives by the sea with her older sister Hannah (Alex Simonet) and her imaginary friend, a talking dog named Paul Williams (Lizzie Grace). She doesn’t like school, where she is bullied, but she loves the ocean, music, and telling stories. One day a young man, Ryan (Tom Coliandris), arrives from the city, processing a personal tragedy and resulting feelings of guilt. Although he is at first slightly taken aback by Katy’s mannerisms, the two quickly form a bond.
Not a whole lot actually happens in the story, but the plot derives suspense and narrative drive from the gradual revelation of Katy, Hannah and Ryan’s pasts and how they grow during the time they spend together. All four actors delivered skillful, naturalistic performances, but a special mention must go to Alex Brain as the challenging but lovable Katy. A simple, minimalist set consisting of a stepladder, a small sail used as a projector screen, and a few other props, allowed the performances and lighting effects to shine. The dreamy electronic live score from band Wovoka Gentle perfectly complemented the onstage action.
We Live By The Sea is not only entertainment, but also a fundraising and awareness-raising project providing a glimpse into the challenges that autistic people must deal with when processing the world. The character of Paul Williams was a great touch, drawing the audience into Katy’s world and way of thinking. Katy’s closing request to try to “think differently” about her and spend a little effort to understand her life certainly left an impression on the audience.
My only slight criticisms are of the venue, which had less than ideal sightlines and could be a little noisy, but such is the nature of most temporary venues. The staff also did make an effort to direct audience members to the best possible seats.
We Live By The Sea delivers a beautiful, emotionally complex tale with plenty of affectionate humour and style. If you’re free this afternoon or evening, I highly recommend catching one of the last two sessions of this simple but profoundly touching story at the 2017 Fringe.
4 out of 5 stars