In recent years, a number of publications written by people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder has helped to bring the condition to the public consciousness. Of these, Luke Jackson’s ‘Freaks, Geaks and Asperger’s Syndrome’ and a series of books by Temple Grandin – both also having been the focus of television documentaries – are perhaps the best well-known.
Spectrum, by Edinburgh-based Seam Theatre, is based on Grandin’s fascinating and illuminating insight into her experience of being autistic. While ‘normal’ people translate their sense experiences into words, Grandin maintains that animals and those on the autism spectrum process the world in terms of pictures, sights and sounds. She used this particular understanding to forge a distinguished career as an animal scientist, specialising as a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behaviour.
Grandin, played by Maeve Bell, greeted the audience as they filed in: appropriately herding us like cattle towards our seats. Starting with her difficult childhood and ending with the breakthrough moment that kick-started her career, snapshots of Grandin’s life were interwoven with a history of autism.
Among the descriptions and explanations of the differences and difficulties she faced, other, more creative devices were also used to get the message across. High-pitched, jarring sounds were used for instance, whenever Grandin had to shake hands or endure other manifestations of ‘soft’ touching. Painful to the ear, they represented the sensory pain she experienced in such situations.
Credit must go to Maeve Bell who played a difficult role with warmth, humour and sensitivity, presenting Grandin as quirky and eminently likeable. Bell was ably supported by the rest of the cast who played a variety of cameo roles with great energy.
This was a game attempt to explain a complex condition, as empathetically as possible, in a one hour show and will be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in the subject of autism.
Runs: 13th, 15th, 17th, 19th, 21st, 23rd August at 17:15.