Alison Brown (costume designer), Lighting Designer Simon Wilkinson (lighting designer), Calum Paterson (sound designer / engineer), Janice Parker (movement director), David Paul Jones (arranger / musical director), Rachel Amey (BSL translator), Carol Robertson (BSL consultant).
“It’s a long road that doesn’t have a bend”, but Annis is reluctant to even set out on the journey. Her stepmother has planned a “holiday for you and me”, but in reality, it is intended more as a break from Annis.
Annis is a lively, witty 16-year-old girl with autism, who, while her stepmother hasn’t tucked her in and read her bedtime stories, loves fairy tales.
Still, she is less than enchanted by the bus trip to what she sees as a grim forest of pine, pine, more pine, and the occasional rowan, but the sighting of a castle is somewhat more magical. She has always dreamt of living like a princess in a castle.
Castle Lennox is celebrating Cake Day, and Hansel and Gretel like she is lured in, but the palace is not all it seems. It is a custodial institution, a place of segregation in the fiefdom of a head doctor who feels that a woman on her own can’t cope, and that Annis should be allowed to be “in company of her own kind”. Alarmingly he posits that purification of the gene pool is the ultimate solution for a “glut of the disabled”.
The illusion vanishes for Annis as she is denied her own clothes and packed off to bed in the female dormitory. Her “high grade” designation sees her fit to work in exchange for cigarettes which, like prison “snout”, is the currency between patients and bribes for staff. But her nature is at odds with the authoritarian Staff Nurse who pegs her as trouble, misnaming her as “Gabby Aggie” and singling her out for punishment.
And so begins a dehumanising, stifling routine where every day is the same, except for dinner, which is a rotating litany of unappetising food, even the pudding being met with a chorus of “yuck, yuck, yuck.”
Aside from the friendships between the patients, nearly two decades of institutionalised sleep walking will pass in a haze of imposed medication, but with change imminent they will be left to wonder what is around the corner and whether there can be such a thing as happily ever after.
This play with songs, inspired by real events and developed with the learning-disabled actors of the Lung Ha Theatre Company, sheds light on a dark history in a caring and heart-warming way. The well-crafted script generally keeps things humorous even if it allows a somewhat easy resolution. The production is lovingly fashioned with many nice touches, from its look with the tree surrounded set, period costumes to excellent movement and the inspired integration of the BSL interpreter.
While not every day is Cake Day, it is World Autism Acceptance Week and there can be few better advocates.
Show times: 30 March to 1 April 2023 at 7.30pm. Matinee 1 April at 2.30pm.
Tickets: £17 - £20
Suitability: Note - this performance explores themes that might not be suitable for children, including discussions of eugenics and abuse within medical institutions.