Echolalia is the term applied to the habit of repeating others’ speech, often found in those with conditions such as autism. It is also the title of Jen McArthur’s beautifully crafted performance piece in which she combines her skills in clowning, physical theatre, dance and acting to give us a glimpse into the world of Echo, a young woman who is on the autism spectrum.
Having been inspired by her work with autistic children, many of their common features are enacted within this piece, depicted with a touching honesty, sympathy and sense of humour. The social and communication difficulties experienced by those with an autistic condition represent only the extreme end of a spectrum that includes us all. McArthur’s performance recognises this, demonstrating an affectionate understanding of the condition and bringing you face-to-face with the often quirky behaviours that arise out of it, that are peculiarly not so different from your own.
Echo has a written timetable that provides her with a clear routine for the day. On the first sheet she ticks off, one by one, ‘say good morning to flat mates’, ‘brush hair’, ‘roll up blanket’, ‘dusting’, ‘spin time’. Spin time is her reward for getting the other things done. Echo counts up to 8 as she paces across her room between tasks, which reassures her in its predictability and keeps overwhelming anxiety at bay.
She reads aloud her from her book of social rules which include, making eye contact with the person you are talking to for 4 seconds before looking away, then repeat. She needs to leave the house but the cacophony of noise is so terrifying and incomprehensible that she curls up in a ball with a blanket over her head to shut down the sensory overload.
You couldn’t help falling a little bit in love with McArthur. She has choreographed this to perfection, creating a genuinely comic yet heart-warming piece of gentle brilliance. The audience laughed a lot. I was laughing at the memories of autistic children I have known and worked with, as well as at my own habits of list-making, rehearsing difficult telephone conversations (often out loud) and sometime social awkwardness.
It left you wanting more. I left feeling understood and with a resolve to smile more in the face of difficult situations and to be more tolerant – of my own failings and other people’s. Thoughtful and thoroughly entertaining.
Runs until 26 Aug, 3.40pm
Tickets range from £3.50 - £8.50