Thomas, Vault Festival

Image result for thomas, vault festival, robbie curran

by Louis Train

Thomas is, in the words of its creator, “a story that’s as much for those on the spectrum as it is for people who aren’t.” The spectrum in this case is the Autistic Spectrum, and Thomas is an honest, open, and confident look at what life can be like for people who experience the world a bit differently.

Thomas has Asperger’s, which puts him on the high-functioning end of the spectrum. His greatest limitations are reading social cues – like understanding when someone is being sarcastic – and communicating with people. He goes off on rants sometimes, and doesn’t always let people share their ideas, and can, occasionally, come across as a bit of a dick – even though he cares deeply for the people in his life, especially his cousin and best friend, David.

Told through short scenes that jump back and forth through the titular character’s childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, Thomas doesn’t have much in the way of a plot, but it doesn’t want for one. What this play gives us is in a way more satisfying than an inciting incident, a climax, and a denouement: it gives us perspective. With great sincerity and attention to detail, Thomas pulls back the curtain to expose another way of experiencing things, the same world, but different.

One of the special features of this production is that all of its performances are Relaxed, meaning the creators took into consideration the needs of audience members with Asperger’s and Autism when crafting the show. They adapted the lighting, sound, and staging, and began the show with a special welcome. Those who go to see Thomas are free to leave and re-enter the theatre as needed. It is truly, radically, accessible to a group of people who otherwise rarely get the chance to go to the theatre.

I only wish I had seen Thomas succeed more. Off-scene, he graduates high school with good marks, starts at university, and gets laid. He has nearly as many chances to celebrate as he does to suffer, but the audience are conspicuously left out of happy moments; instead, we mostly get access to his disappointment, humiliation, and misunderstanding. It is as though Robbie Curran, the playwright and star, and himself a person on the spectrum, went searching for a voice and settled on the loudest sounds – a shout of frustration, a cry of misunderstanding, a sarcastic grunt – without listening a bit closer for those softer, subtler, but just as important expressions.

I wish I had heard Thomas laugh more.

Thomas runs through 27 January.

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