Theatre review: The Reason I Jump, North Kelvin Meadow, Glasgow

Reason I Jump. Picture: Pete Dibdin
Reason I Jump. Picture: Pete Dibdin
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In North Kelvin Meadow, at the end of a busy day, the world is suddenly still, and very beautiful. Beyond the gate into the meadow and children’s wood, a soft breeze ruffles the tops of the young trees; and in five sunlit spaces and clearings - linked in any order by a maze-like series of paths - five people wait to talk to us about their experience of being autistic, and about their response to Naoki Higashida’s remarkable book about his own autism, The Reason I Jump, first published in Japan in 2007.

Theatre review: The Reason I Jump, North Kelvin Meadow, Glasgow ****

The book takes the form of 58 questions that non-autistic people commonly ask those with autism; but this beautiful, free-flowing National Theatre of Scotland show – created by director Graham Eatough and dramaturg Clare Duffy with the company – succeeds brilliantly in referring to those questions, while not being unduly constrained by them. Each performer tells an intensely individual tale, from 60-year-old Michael who knew that he was different before autism even had a name, through brilliant young Calum bouncing on a small trampoline as he recreates Naoki’s pleasure in jumping, to Nicola and Emma, stars of Edinburgh’s Lung Ha company, who talk searchingly about the reasons for autism, as well as about the values they embrace, and about their own individual responses to the autistic life, from hatching out caterpillars in jars, to taking up judo.

At the centre of the maze there is a labyrinth, marked out in stones on the ground; at its entrance sits young Coery, who has non-verbal autism, inviting us in via the voice of his tablet computer. We walk through it, asking our own questions, our hearts perhaps open enough - after an hour in the meadow - to hear some answers; then we all gather to watch actor Fletcher Mathers and the company re-enact one of the strange, haunting short stories that occasionally interrupt Naoki’s text, using irresistible, wide-eyed anime masks.

And what we learn, I think, is that at this critical moment, humanity has everything to gain from its diversity, and everything to lose, if it continues to exclude those whose very difference is their strength. Working with this unique acting company, in this unique setting, Graham Eatough has put together an experience that compels us to drop our usual sense of urgency, to enter into a different way of thinking, and to spend an hour or two considering what really matters, in our brief experience of life on earth; and it is, in its quiet way, as unforgettable and life-enhancing a show as I can recall seeing, in almost 40 years on the theatre trail.

Until 23 June