BWW Review: UP DOWN MAN, Tobacco Factory Theatre
"My name is Matty Butler and I like foxes".
We're told the reaction to foxes is often similar to people with Down's syndrome like Matty. Some people think they're cute, some think they shouldn't be there.
Up Down Man is the sequel to the very successful Up Down Boy. We're still with Matty and his family but this time Matty is not a boy, but a man. Matty may share many of the best child-like qualities but he's now 29 and wants a boyfriend.
We're blessed to live in an age where the life expectancy for those born with Down's syndrome is now well into middle age. But this raises a new question at the heart of Myrtle Theatre Comany's show- what happens when that person outlives their primary carer? In this case it's Odette, Matty's mum that has passed.
Like all families in this situation, there's grief. A father struggling to cook and do laundry (there's too many settings on the washing machine, he just wants one that washes clothes) and siblings who have lost their mum. Then there's Matty. He is determined the planned 40th Wedding Anniversary party will go ahead, even though his mum is no longer there.
At first, the idea seems ridiculous to all those except for Matty. A party? At a time of grief? Without one half of the marriage? This is the moment where Matty's emotional intelligence shines like a beacon through the mist of grief. It's about love. Everyone else seems to have forgotten the love they have for Odette. There are few dry eyes left in the house.
Nathan Bessell as Matty communicates mainly through movement and dance. At first, this is an unfamiliar language but the beauty of this show is that as it progresses, you become fluent in Matty's language. As a performer, Bessell is extraordinary. He demands focus and displays a precision in his gestures and movement that is rarely found.
Joe Hall and Emily Bowker as Matty's dad and sister display a wonderful family dynamic as she chastises him for his lack of domestic ability. Hall achieves a wonderful grounded father figure who can talk frankly about the complete spectrum of his feelings about caring for a child with a disability.
Heather Williams as Odette is sharp and witty while allowing just the right amount of introspection for a character always wondering if she did the right thing by Matty. Meanwhile, as Matty's companion and sometimes mouthpiece, Arran Glass is a beautifully dry Mr. Fox.
Michael Straun's lighting design allows us to move seamlessly from the surreal to the real, from Matty's matador dance routine through to the family kitchen. Katie Sykes' simple design lets the family move freely and gives Bessell the necessary space to communicate.
The power of this show cannot be overstated. It does exactly what theatre is best at - it gives a voice to those that are often excluded from society. In Bessell, Myrtle Theatre have uncovered and developed an exceptional performer. Writer and Director Brendan Murray has brought authenticity to the story as well huge warmth and wit amongst the sadness.
If you want theatre that inspires, challenges and informs then you cannot better a night in with Matty.
Photo credit: Richard Davenport