Studio – The Vaults
Reviewed – 7th March 2020
“some lovely moments of warmth”
The tone of the performance is set when I’m met on entry by a beaming steward, all warmth and reassurance. She directs me to empty seats and offers sunglasses and earplugs. Not your usual production, you might be thinking. But all becomes clear; she addresses the audience before the play starts and clarifies that this is a relaxed performance, meaning we can come and go, use the earplugs or sunglasses, do whatever we need to feel comfortable.
This is a great touch (and still all-too rare), but nothing more than you’d expect, given the content of the play. Glitch is a one-hander, with Krystina Nellis as our heroine Kelly, and Kelly is autistic – or, in her words, ‘weird. Diagnosably weird’.
Kelly is a likeable protagonist, trapped in a small town where it’s still ok to call someone living with autism a ‘psycho’, or ‘retard’. Nellis brings her to life well, including the odd amusingly wry remark and some lovely moments of warmth; Kelly’s experiences of losing herself to dance and singing in the questionable local nightclub, for example, are especially touching. She also handles the painful unfolding of Kelly’s grief well, and with sweetness; her dad goes quickly from being ‘fine’ to very, very not fine, and we see this all through Kelly’s straightforward, practical viewpoint. When she sits in a corner with her console and plays video games during his wake, we’re there with her and it’s clear it’s not only not ‘weird’: this makes sense.
Glitch is also something of an homage to video gaming and the communities around it. Kelly finds solace in games and, as the play continues, a true friend. This gaming connection is gorgeously brought to life by the screen on stage, which not only brings us Kelly’s words in real time but also the characters, rendered perfectly, and with changing backdrops (an affordance not otherwise possible in this black box studio), in 90s dot matrix-game style. It’s a lovely touch and enlivens the performance with just the occasional distraction when Nellis deviates wildly from the on-screen text.
This is one element that does, in the end, undermine the show a little; Nellis seems unsteady with the script, sometimes stumbling or repeating. The informal, chatty tone of Kelly’s delivery allows much of this to be absorbed into the performance, but occasionally it feels unnerving. And the narrative drive here can feel a little rambling, with the content perhaps demanding a little less than the full hour it’s given. Tightness would help let some of the funnier, and more powerful, moments really sing.
But all told, we leave on good terms with the small town of Sutward’s favourite ‘weirdo’. For, as the play asks, who gets to say what ‘normal’ is anyway – and why should we care?
Reviewed by Abi Davies