Bristol Theatre News

Into the West at Tobacco Factory Theatre Review – Relaxed Performance

Sometimes it’s nice to go to the theatre and completely enjoy a show in a non-reviewing capacity.

That’s what going to see Into the West by Travelling Light was all about for me. I liked the 90’s film of the same name back in the day and when I saw there was to be a Relaxed Performance, I was really keen to go. I had no intention of reviewing it, but the company and theatre managed the accessibility so well it was definitely worth mentioning.

A Relaxed Performance whilst available for everyone to see has been adapted for families and children with a disability, particularly sensory, social and communication disorders and learning disabilities. This makes it really accessible to families who have a member with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The Tobacco Factory and Travelling Light really excelled at their Relaxed Performance. A visual story including a photographic tour of the building and a synopsis break down with photos was sent out to patrons in advance. This was incredible useful for children who experience anxiety about new situations and places. It also noted parts of the story which could potentially feature louder sounds and fast movement.

On the day, the house lights which are generally quite low anyway were kept on. At the beginning of the performance the stage manager came out to introduce the show. With her came the three actors playing the roles. Each actor introduced themselves and their characters. They also explained the use of more abstract concepts such as acting out the sea which was very helpful.

It wasn’t a busy audience, which was good for us because taking a child with ASD anywhere let alone a theatre is the most stress inducing thing. It would however be equally lovely to see more of these style of performances, especially from the marvellous Travelling Light, with more people able to see them.

For people who don’t know much about ASD, a really difficult aspect to deal with is demand avoidance. Experiencing new things, places or anything else that can cause increased levels of anxiety can cause a child to become demand avoidant. Anything they are told to do such as sit still, be quiet, stop talking, stop fidgeting increases levels of anxiety and in a bid to take control of the situation causes them to become aggressive, hostile, maybe do the opposite thing, in general just look very badly behaved. This is why when lying sideways on a seat or perhaps fidgeting, I say nothing. It’s all part of an anxiety and to address it will cause a scene.

And it’s a major reason why parents who have a child with ASD are so limited. The judgement they get from members of the public during a meltdown or demand avoidant behaviour is bad. That’s why Relaxed Performances are so important and parents are so thankful for them.

Into the West itself was brilliant. It’s aimed at children aged seven years upwards. Although it features children in the story line, I’ve always felt it more of a fairy tale for adults.

The cast includes Adam J Carpenter as Finn, Nina Logue as Ally and my personal favourite Craig Edwards. He’s a marvellous actor and in this show played the depressed Pa, Grandpa, a berry bush, a police dog and the best police helicopter ever.

Into the West is on at the Tobacco Factory Theatres until Sunday 17 July 2016. There aren’t anymore Relaxed Performances, but it’s absolutely worth going to see.