History of Autism
11:00am, Tue 11 Mar 2014
I must admit: I went along to History of Autism ready to get riled up; I was totally prepared to be infuriated – if not offended – by what I thought would be presented.
See, I’m a bit of a scientist at heart, and lately a large number of “skeptical” podcasts have crept into my usual routine… and there had been a lot of coverage of anti-vaccination organisations that claimed, amongst other things, that certain vaccines were linked to the increased prevalence of autism. And, in that regard, the précis for History of Autism didn’t make it clear which side of the fence it would sit on in… and so, in my inherently pessimistic way, I feared for the worst.
Which is a bloody stupid way to walk into a show, especially when I always try to get into a “this could be the greatest show ever” mood before performances.
Luckily, History of Autism was enjoyable – and balanced – enough to get me back onside.
Company @ – billed as Australia’s only theatre company for people on the autism spectrum – presented a brief history of autism, starting with Leo Kanner‘s early work on child psychiatry through to Hans Asperger‘s more definitive research into the autism spectrum. Some of the (more than twenty) scenes in the production show day-to-day life for autistic children in households of different eras; occasionally, some of these would be almost difficult to watch, such was the treatment of such children at those times… and especially when I reflected that those actions could have affected some of the cast performing them.
But other scenes are heavily doused with humour (Kanner is referred to as “Our Father” in the programme), and there were a number of video clips (used to cover set changes) that gave another, more personal, view into those occupying different positions in the autism spectrum. And as we watched the seminal moments of autism research unfold, I felt as if the script was very carefully balanced, emotionally: not too sensationalistic, not too flippant. And yes, even the correlation of vaccines and autism rates was broached in an assured manner.
By and large, it was rarely apparent that the cast lived with (a wide variety of) autism; performances were physically strong. Occasionally, an actor’s inhibitions would get the better of them, and they would pull away from their mark; but such was the sense of camaraderie within the group, there would always be a guiding nudge to get them back into the groove of the piece. But where the piece did suffer, though, was from the lack of strong vocal projection in a room as big as The Opera Studio… but that’s a production issue. In a smaller space, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as noticeable.
Far from leaving History of Autism riled up, I actually felt genuinely uplifted. Here was a solid play with solid performances, presented by a company that showed a fantastic sense of faith and support in each other. The curtain call was a delightful sea of (sometimes awkward) happiness, and that left me grinning from ear to ear.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) March 11, 2014