We Live By The Sea.
Collectively devised and written by Patch of Blue. Directed by Alex Howarth. Patch of Blue and Hartshorn-Hook Productions. Presented by Joanne Hartstone. The Royal Croquet Club. Adelaide Fringe. February 16 – March 14. 2018
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
When there is so much on at the Adelaide Fringe and the Adelaide Festival it is often difficult to make the right choice. I faced a dilemma. Do I review Henry Naylor’s Borders at Holden Street or We Live By The Sea at the Fringe’s Royal Croquet Club. My friend said that I must not miss Borders. It is a superb show. Adelaide Fringe CEO, Heather Croall, advised me not to miss We Live By The Sea. It is excellent!
As it happened, timing made the decision for me. I could only get to We Live By The Sea, and hope that there may be a future opportunity to see Borders. As it happened, it was a most fortuitous choice. When there is so much to choose from, it is a rare treat to strike gold. But gold is what I struck at the marquee at the Royal Croquet Club on a warm Adelaide afternoon.
Two actors crouched at the entrance, feeling shoes as the audience entered. Suddenly, with a burst of energy, the two actors leapt onto the stage to the accompaniment of the musicians who stood at the rear behind a stretched out sail showing projections of the sea. It took me a while to realize that Katy’s behavior was unpredictable, at times volatile and aggressive, at other times loving and affectionately inquisitive with a fascination for the story of the princess who wanted to be a knight and fight the dragons like other male knights. Her companion, clearly a female person with Paul Williams written on her T shirt also puzzled as she leapt playfully about Katy and the stage. At the edge of the stage stood Hannah, Katy’s older sister, with the burdensome weight of the world bearing down upon her. Alex Simonet’s performance is so real, so painful that it evokes tears and a desperate desire to help. The contrast with the frenetic activity of the other two characters is palpable.
And then the light dawns, and the energy and frantic nature of the piece coalesce into a powerful, moving and heart-wrenching family drama. It is revealed most clearly through the arrival of a newcomer to the area. Teenager, Ryan (Tom Coliandris) shares our puzzlement, until he too learns of the cause of Katy’s behavior and the wearisome aspect of Hannah’s personality.
Katy has autism. Her world is defined by erratic behavior, and seemingly unpredictable reaction to the circumstances that surround her. She loves stories and colouring in and finds companionship with her imaginary dog, whom she calls Paul Williams in memory of her father who died in a boating accident a year earlier. Actor, Lizzie Grace makes no attempt to transform into an animal, but perfectly captures the puppy like love and bounding energy of Katy’s imaginary pet. Her mother left home when Katy was very young, leaving her to be raised by her father and elder sister. Hannah now assumes the role of Katy’s carer and bears the burden of the responsibility, and she finds herself relying on Ryan and longing for a relationship.
We Live By The Sea is not only about living with autism. It is a story of love and sacrifice, of need and resilience and a cry for understanding and support. Patch of Blue have created a work that is told with utmost honesty and compassion. The performances ring with truth and integrity. Careful research informs every moment of this beautifully crafted and moving production, sensitively directed by Alex Howarth. Alex Brain gives a remarkable, at times almost frighteningly authentic, but always honest and controlled performance as a child with autism. Gesture, voice and eye for detail create reality, capable of evoking laughter one moment and tears the next. Thoughtfully introduced live and electronic musical backing lends the performance a powerfully emotive aspect. We Live By the Sea carries an audience along, sweeping over them in waves of understanding. It touches the heart, fires the mind and simply tells a story with the power to make a difference. It is a show at the Fringe that should be front and centre of every theatregoer’s experience. A Fringe triumph!