Review: Living With Luke, a play by Paul T. Davies
By Catherine Johnson
IT’S Saturday night and I have found myself at Burnt Mill Academy, sat in front of a full-size wrestling ring, which seems mammoth and somewhat intimidating from where I am sat in the front row. I am here to watch a play that is based on a series of blogs written by Harlow writer, Steve Hannam, who tells us what life is like with an autistic son.
Steve Hannam’s wrestling persona, Danson Thunderbolt, is in the ring and fighting round after round with The Autistic Shadow (pro wrestler Paul Tyrrell). Throughout the play we see Luke (Ben Maytham) who is completely unaware of his dad’s struggle to develop, what most would call, a normal father-son relationship with him.
We start with round one when Danson is first hit, literally, with the diagnosis that his son, Luke, has autism at only two and a half years old. The Autistic Shadow is a violent and unrelenting wrestler who does not play by the rules and lays blow after blow on Danson. The referee himself is no match for The Autistic Shadow and can do little to help. There will be no support for Danson after this diagnosis.
Next up is the epilepsy round. As if autism was not enough, Luke is now found to have epilepsy, a condition that eventually forces Luke out of school and something that The Autistic Shadow seems to revel in.
Luke, meanwhile, doesn’t say “I love you” before he goes to bed like other children. Instead he merely repeats what his father says, which seems to leave Danson feeling worse – as if no words would be better than empty words.
In later rounds, two grown men are thrown at my feet. I mean, really they are thrown at my feet – I’m in the front row and the two wrestlers are now fighting on the floor in front of me. Being this close up, I can see that Steve Hannam is covered in rope burn and seems to have scratches and bruises that weren’t there before. This is real and I’m getting nervous. The Autistic Shadow seems to be winning.
After this, Danson seems to tire as The Autistic Shadow picks up a nearby chair and brutally hits him with it. This is all genuine, the pair are improvising and I’m sure that Paul Tyrrell is far too good at playing The Autistic Shadow.
The play ends with ‘A Love Letter to Tiddles’ (Tiddles being the affectionate nickname for Luke). I won’t ruin the end for you but here is where I struggled not to cry.
Living With Luke is a touching play written from a father’s perspective, which is something rarely seen. This play is a must-see for anyone fighting their own battle with autism, or just for those who like to be surprised.
Living With Luke returns On March 20th at The Rhodes Art Centre and on May 9th at The Princes Theatre, Clacton.
If the team can secure £1,500 in funding via Crowdfunder they will be at The Mercury Theatre, Colchester in June.
To donate visit: www.crowdfunder.co.uk/living-with-luke-the-play/
You can find Living with Luke the blog here: www.dansonthunderbolt.wordpress.com/
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