Photo: JMA photography
A small audience of teenagers and adults with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) gather with their carers in a magically dressed studio space at the University of Canterbury. Everything is cream or brown because the city we’re in has been devastated by a dust storm. Two newly homeless young women are left behind in the evacuation. They struggle, of course, but eventually there’s a resolution and hope for the future.
It’s a surprisingly robust narrative for a multi-sensory show of this sort. More often than not creative work for people with PMLD tends to be stronger on theme and sensation than on story. Home manages to do it all. We feel the wind, touch the dust, smell the clothes abandoned on the floor, watch water being filtered, blow foam and bubbles and much more as well as hearing the live music played on set by the versatile, talented Alistair Watts who can play guitar in a wide range of styles and make a saxophone talk. It’s both immersive and interactive. And we wonder with Olive (Amber Onat Gregory) and Scarlet (Lucy Garland) whether they really will ever get the promised news on the radio announcing that they are to be rescued.
Garland and Onat Gregory rhythmically repeat many of their lines and, unobtrusively, sign their words in BSL at the same time. The story is very clearly spelled out. On the other hand – and it’s another thing I liked very much about this show – none of the dialogue, or the plot is remotely patronising. “The dust became oppressive” they say at one point. Garland sings beautifully and has a lovely chuckling laugh which she uses to encourage audience members to relate to her. Onat Gregory is equally engaging. She sometimes struggles to sing in tune but that’s a minor gripe and I doubt very much that anyone in the target audience noticed. One of the episodes involves the two of them singing a song directly to individual audience members using his or her name. The delight on the face of an adult with PMLD named Matthew when he heard this was a wonderful moment.
The topicality of the subject matter is another way in which this show really reaches its audience. Refugees, usually with devastating stories behind them, are very much with us. Home is powerful piece of theatre about loss,separation, fear, loneliness, reconciliation, hope and rebuilding relationships – human life, in fact. And those things matter to people with PMLD as much as they do to anyone else.
Photo: JMA photography