Plastic Figurines is an excellent character based play that deserves real recognition. The focus on an individual with autism tied to a sibling struggling personal loss, allows the story to give an insight into a condition that some may not, but all should, understand.
The Stage has recognised Box of Tricks as “a theatre company to watch”. If its production of Plastic Figurines is any measure, it is clear why the newspaper so admires the company.
This Manchester based theatre company has taken a story within the private borders of family life, and offered a less than pleasant, yet striking, imagining of a sibling relationship. Performed by Vanessa Schofield and Jamie Samuel, from the pre-set right through to the end, this character driven story centres on the loss of a parent and the responsibilities left behind.
Inspired by events in the playwright’s own life, Plastic Figurines is a funny and moving new play that explores autism and the relationship between siblings with very different views of the world.
This is a brief description about what is available onstage: Scenes are contrasted through a distorted timeline; reflecting how two very different individuals cope with their mother’s leukaemia; tension intensifies with each scene, as the two hander builds til breaking point.
Set within a hospital waiting room, an uninviting and cold atmosphere is forced upon proceedings with Richard Owen’s distinct lighting. Hospitals naturally possess the habit of pushing people to their limits and Chris Hope’s composition of incidental music equally adds to the discomfort.
Playwright Ella Carmen Greenhill’s storytelling deserves the recognition that she has garnered. The trivial details that drive Mikey to despair are those that come either from excellent research methods or personal experience. Greenhill reflects:
Mikey was initially inspired by my brother, but he definitely developed into a distinct character as I went along…In real life, my mum also passed away, but me and my brother only share a dad, so that was more about exploring my own grief.
Writing from Rose’s viewpoint is an interesting way to tell a story on the autism spectrum. Although the scenes reflect a troubled sibling bond, the love for one another is apparent without any words of affection being spoken.
Schofield replicates the life of a twenty something aspiring to a future far away from home – in this instance, Edinburgh. Forced or willing, her circumstances pull her back to Manchester; without friends or a job what possibilities will guide her to happiness?
Breaking into soliloquies is not often easy unless you are in a play from the 16th century. Schofield’s distress maintains the audience’s attention yet the play moves from drama into something a lot simpler during these solo moments. Schofield is at her best during moments when she bonds with Samuel’s Mikey. Whether it’s the ‘cheetah’ facts or choosing which confectionary belongs to ‘chocolate royalty’, the chemistry peaks.
Given Mikey appears onstage with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figurines, you suspect he’s not an average 18-year-old. The opening scene demonstrates director Adam Quayle’s strong association with the playtext; the constant repetition thereafter links the audience to Rose’s grief.
Mikey’s response to death visualises a condition that some may not understand. Perhaps it recounts personal memories. Whether it is the former or the latter, Samuel excels in his role. The emotional attachment to objects, wishing cancer on his sister – just two examples of Mikey’s complexity. Samuel steps into another dimension with hysteria one moment; descends to recalling insignificant details the next.
It is impossible to not relate back to Simon Stephen’s adaptation of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, nonetheless Plastic Figurines is an excellent character based play that deserves real recognition.
The focus on an individual with autism tied to a sibling struggling personal loss, allows the story to give an insight into a condition that some may not, but all should, understand.