Cartoonopolis: the 27-character, one-man show with important lessons about autism

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Cartoonopolis is an imaginary world created by Jack Bray, who has autism, as a way of making sense of his emotions and the world around him. Lewis, his older brother, brought Cartoonopolis to life at the Unity Theatre in Liverpool 20-21 June 2017, as part of his nationwide tour. Review by Steph Niciu.

Lewis Bray dancing

Lewis Bray in Cartoonopolis. Photograph: Brian Roberts.

Lewis, a graduate of the Iginition Artists’ Project at the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, played 27 characters in 90 minutes in his one-man show. But before we got into the story, Lewis gave us an introduction to Jack, their mum, Bev, and dad, Nige, and told us all that Cartoonopolis began in the Bray’s back garden.

This set up was important as it signposted that the play was not only going to show us the fun, vibrant and engaging world of Cartoonopolis with its characters that include Buzz Lightyear, Pinky and the Brain and Porky the Pig, but that there was going be touching and emotional moments too.

Jack was on a mission to save the cartoon characters from having their creativity stolen by the dastardly Mayor Sharp and stop Cartoonopolis being taken over by him. Lewis was a tour de force throughout. Because he played so many characters, there was the risk that some could be underdeveloped and feel unrelatable to the audience. But there was no sign of that, as Lewis gave the cartoon characters the energy that they needed to fizz on stage, but he treated his own family with a delicacy that really struck a chord with us. He showed us that he is not only a talented comic actor, but a dramatic one too.

Cartoonopolis has given Jack a way of dealing with both the small and big changes in his life, such as getting a new taxi driver for school, getting an iPhone for his 18th birthday and not wanting to go to college. Autism is still an impairment that many people do not understand or have never encountered before. And the snapshots of real life did pack an emotional punch, the dramatic equivalent to a blow to the stomach.

They really hurt and at times made us feel uncomfortable. We saw a family trying to educate themselves about autism.  Along the way, we witnessed the anger that was felt when Jack had been cruelly mistreated in school, being locked in a room as punishment as his teacher didn’t understand Jack’s behaviour, and the frustration that he wasn’t getting the right support from Social Services.

In particular Bev, Jack and Lewis’ mum, was someone who we really empathised with. As an audience, we understood the way that parents will fight to give their child the best life possible, disabled or non-disabled. Her emotion when talking about her son was so raw and powerful that you could not help but be moved by what she had to say. One statement really stuck out: ‘‘Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean that it’s not there.’’  And that’s something that we all need to remember when it comes to a person with autism or learning difficulties. A little more understanding and empathy can go a long way.

Cartoonopolis was educational, made us laugh one moment and cry the next. We walked away from it feeling informed and inspired, and came to the conclusion that Jack’s cartoon world is pretty darn cool, and his voice is loud, clear and deserves to be heard.

For details of Cartoonopolis please visit www.lewisbray.co.uk