Research indicates that autistic people have higher rates of LGBT identities and feelings than the wider population. In a 2017 study by the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR), 69.7% of autistic participants reported being non-heterosexual.
The fact that the author of this review got the autumn of his gay life before learning this fact might suggest that representation and awareness are issues that need addressing.
JJ Green’s new play ‘A-Typical Rainbow’ goes some way to tackling ignorance and telling a story from an autistic and queer perspective. This ground-breaking production is currently staged at the Turbine Theatre, which opened in 2019, as part of the regeneration of Battersea Power Station. It’s a cute, bijou space, bringing character and culture to a curiously anodyne district.
JJ Green’s largely autobiographical play charts the journey of Boy from 7 years old to adulthood. Green performs as his younger self, though Conor Joseph stepped into that role for the second half on the night we attended. Joseph was excellent as Boy, an understudy to be reckoned with.
The play delivers an impressively nuanced viewpoint. The audience is given a window into Boy’s fantastical, hyper-coloured world, a glittering cocktail of Narnia, Disney and Atlantis. However, it’s not all mermaids and pink bubbles. The challenging realities of parenting and educating neurodiverse children are not shied away from.
Caroline Deverill is spellbinding as Boy’s mother, perfectly capturing the mix of devotion, compassion and fear that stems from not knowing what’s best for a child who’s unique and unconventional. Deverill has an autistic son in real life, which adds another level of poignancy to her performance. Boy’s father (and also Doctor) is played by James Westphal, a neurodivergent actor who brings authenticity and complexity to two roles which aren’t hugely sympathetic. As Boy’s father, he’s a toxic geezer, raging against femininity, but he’s also a man without the tools for the job at hand. It’s painful and sad to behold.
Every gay man who’s invited the disgust of their father for playing with dolls as a child will recognise the cycles of self-loathing and rejection that this creates. A-Typical Rainbow portrays this familiar territory with raw accuracy, not least the conflict that this provokes between Boy’s parents.
A-Typical Rainbow had a rather an abrupt ending that left many strands unresolved, rendering the second half weaker than the first. Some judicious editing overall might lend the show a punchier impact. That said, it’s an enlightening experience that dazzles with heaps of charm and a much-needed plea for patience and kindness in a complex world.
A-Typical Rainbow by JJ Green is at the Turbine Theatre until the 7th August, https://www.theturbinetheatre.com/whats-on/a-typical-rainbow
Reviewer: Stewart Who?
Reviewed: 12th July 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★