Grace Eyre Street aired twice at The Purple Playhouse Theatre on 23 and 30 May as part of Brighton Fringe Festival. The charity specialises in helping adults with learning difficulties. All six actors are supported by the charity and live within Grace Eyre Towers. The piece was directed by Mark Richardson, who has run theatre projects incorporating learning disabled people for over thirty years. Review by Emma Robdale.
The production used a range of different theatrical devices including: physical theatre, mime, interpretive dance, voice-overs and a lot of comedy. The hour-long production was split into nine short acts: ‘Early Risers’, ‘Relaxing Dance’, ‘Love Letter’, ‘The Meditators’, ‘Film Lovers’, ‘Good Night Old People’, ‘Drunk People’, ‘Noisy Neighbours’ and ‘The Flat Work Out’. Each one demonstrated an element of the actors’ real lives living in Grace Eyre Towers; from troubles with noisy neighbours, meditation classes that sooth anxiety, to having a night out on the town.
Through the use of mime and physical theatre the troupe incorporated a phenomenal amount of humour into the scenes. In the scene ‘The Meditators’, a voice-over played a deep calming voice, “Please take a slow breath in through your mouth, hold it, and slowly let it out.”
Two of the actors mimed smoking a cigarette… breathing in, holding the smoke, then letting it out, while another actor snored loudly. All three of them sprung immediately out of their daze when a pizza delivery man rang the doorbell! In another scene they watched a ‘work out’ routine while eating pringles. This bunch of actors allowed their real personalities to shine through the performance giving the audience a unique insight into the Grace Eyre community.
The troupe consisted one female actor, and five males: Julia Burcham, Max Arnold, Ben Doehren, George Jarman, Benedict Lloyd-Williams and Matthew Zeller. The performance was narrated by Doehren who would comically introduce each scene before stepping back onto the main stage to partake within the scenes himself. He introduced the scene ‘Work Out’ with, “Sometimes it’s hard to exercise…so we watch a DVD of someone doing it instead!”
Not all the scenes were comedic; one of the first acts, ‘Love Letter’, involved interpretative dance to convey the impact that receiving a letter from a loved one can have. Burcham sat at a table slowly opening a letter. Although she was silent the audience were able to tell the content by her reactions; her face lit up until she smiled widely as romantic music played, and she started to dance passionately with the letter.
This romantic dance scene contrasted to a later one entitled ‘Noisy Neighbours’. The background music was loud and women could be heard screaming. One actor paced the stage with his hands over his ears as a pink monster-like living statue stood mid-stage. It was comprised of three people within stretchy pink material, however you could only see their whitened hands clawing at the front as the monster-like apparition, which became taller and faster as the music increased in intensity. I think we’ve all experienced neighbours that have made us feel like this! A great piece of interpretive theatre.
Every scene was unique and shared some of the touching and humorous real-life experiences of the actors. It was wonderful to watch such a dynamic piece with actors showing an abundance of enthusiasm. You could tell it was a very close-knit theatre group, whose supportive relationships far transcended the stage.