The QT

Saturday 15 June 2024
15/06/2024

Autism takes centre stage

The experiences of autistic young people and their families will be explored and spotlit in an insightful play coming to Newcastle following a performance at the Scottish Parliament. Sam Wonfor finds out more about Hindsight
Hindisght is coming to Gosforth Civic Theatre at the end of March

As a parent of autistic children, writer Jill Franklin has spent many years seeing how they have been misunderstood while trying to find a way through systems which weren’t built with them in mind.

“As the saying goes, if you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person,” she says talking about her award-winning play, Hindsight, which was inspired by her family’s experiences and those of others they had encountered.

“I found myself deeply frustrated trying to navigate an education system that is not equipped to cope with children with additional support needs,” says Jill, who is based in Edinburgh.

“Fundamental to this seemed to be a distinct lack of awareness of the spectrum of autistic experience. There are misconceptions and stereotypes that still persist about autistic people and girls are still woefully underdiagnosed, despite some advances since I wrote the play in 2015.”

Which brings us to the central character in Jill’s play, which is coming to Gosforth Civic Theatre later this month (March 28).



Laura is struggling. While she loves her best friend (and favourite toy), Bear, she hates school. Her mum, Sue, is finding it increasingly difficult to manage Laura’s behaviour while Laura’s teachers aren’t vying to be part of any solution.

Written as part of her Masters in Playwriting at the University of Edinburgh, Jill set out to convey to audiences what it can be like to see the world as an autistic person.

“I also want them to see the people behind the diagnosis and to show how being autistic means you are just as human as everyone else, it is the world around you that can be the problem,” she says.

“Laura is funny and smart, despite her struggles. Some autistic people experience the world in a way that is imaginative and unique, and theatre is perfect to bring an audience into that world, where Bears talk and you can see over the rainbow.”

Laura (Sam Fox) and best friend Bear (Ellie Stevens) in Hindsight

Shortlisted for the David McLennan Award in 2016, a new production of the play by the female-led, disabled and/or neurodiverse Fox and Hound theatre company enjoyed an award-winning run at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019.

It’s this production which is coming to Newcastle following a performance at the Scottish Parliament, which had been on the schedule — alongside a wider tour — in 2020, but was scuppered by Covid.

“Thanks to lots of hard work by Jill and the National Autistic Society Scotland we are delighted to be getting a second opportunity to bring this play and subject to new audiences, the creative industry and our political leaders,” says producer and actor, Helen Fox, who plays Laura’s mum, Sue in the play.

Helen says the responses to performances of the play have been “overwhelmingly positive”. 

“There have been a great many families who have gone through similar experiences to Sue and felt seen by this representation and relief that they were not alone,” she says.

Helen Fox (left) plays Sue, Laura’s Mum in Hindsight

“There were also smaller children with autism who found fun and joy in the playfulness of the show.”

There have also been a lot of audience members who work in the education system.

“They share their experiences, their difficulties and frustrations and in some cases the woefully poor training,” says Helen. 

“Mostly there is a desire to help, to be the best support possible but a lack of resources made this very difficult.”

Alongside Helen in the cast are director Ellie Stevens who plays Bear, Sam Fox who plays Laura and stage manager Codge Crawford who plays Laura’s teacher, Mr Ford.

“Some audience members asked whether the actor who plays Laura was autistic,” says Helen. “There was consensus that they had captured this character beautifully and understood the difficulties without effort.”

Hindisght is coming to Gosforth Civic Theatre following a performance at the Scottish Parliament

Although Helen says as a company, they don’t believe actors have to be what they perform, Hindsight’s cast have in fact been on an interesting and interlinked journey during their involvement with the play.

“[During the earlier tour] the actor who plays Laura would have been characterised as neurodiverse although not autistic.

“But after performing the play for a period it became clear that three of the four actors were in fact neurodiverse; two of them autistic with ADHD — including the actor who plays Laura. 

“Diagnosis took a long time, too long and in some cases hasn’t yet been completed but, we are here, returning with this play with a different perspective to the one which we first started.”

While it sounds like the play will undoubtedly resonate with anyone who recognises their own lived experiences within it, Jill says she hopes that it also brings home the challenges faced by youngsters who grow up in a world which doesn’t understand them to those who may never have given the issue much thought.

I also want them to see the people behind the diagnosis and to show how being autistic means you are just as human as everyone else, it is the world around you that can be the problem

Jill Franklin, writer of Hindsight

She says: “I think it is vital for anyone who does not have that lived experience to see the play because understanding how the world appears when you are autistic is the first step in helping to change that world for the better.”

Helen, who is hoping that the future of Hindsight holds a schools tour with educational and training workshops, adds: “Rather than this be a reflection of people with autism, it would be great for neurotypical people to take it as a cue to just pause and see differences, any differences without judgement, ask questions, be supportive and not jump to conclusions. 

“These are all things that really just sound fair for everyone, whatever your difference.”

Hindsight will be performed at Gosforth Civic Theatre on March 28. For tickets, visit the website or call the box office on 0191 284 3700.

@samwonfor

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