Robbie Curran’s debut play Thomas explores living with Asperger’s in this series of coming-of-age scenes at VAULT Festival.
Thomas and David are cousins slash best friends, growing up closely together that they know each other inside out. Whilst Thomas has Asperger’s – a condition that is still misunderstood by many – David doesn’t, but it doesn’t make him immune to the challenges that the world may throw.
A series of short scenes with a loose narrative make up this quiet and loving play: childhood Pokemon games, mock interviews, getting stones, and first kisses. All small scenes are treated with care, and make up a wider picture of the pair learning to become the men they feel they should be. It’s alike to Greta Gerwig’s film Ladybird – though there is a throughline, it doesn’t dominate the play. Instead, it quietly simmers as we return to it with a new awareness based on past moments in the pair’s almost shared life.
Robbie Curran and Ben Lydon’s chemistry and camaraderie on stage as Thomas and David is beautiful. There are equal doses of care, love, and the annoyance you can only feel at your best friend. The pair also balance tender moments (“I thought you didn’t do hugs”) with lighter scenes (for instance, David’s reaction to Thomas pulling at a party) extremely well, capturing both the calms and storms of adolescence and young adulthood. Playing a variety of other characters the young men interact with – a cool boy at a party, David’s uni girlfriend – is Amanda Shodeko, a fantastic character actress who manages to steal a few scenes with her likable charm and wit.
A clean set design by Esteniah Williams keeps the focus on the story, with Holly Ellis’ lighting design capturing each mood of the pair’s story beautifully.
Lucy Foster and Curran are to be commended for ensuring the character of Thomas is kept realistic, and not a stereotype of a condition. Though there are moments which feel rushed or unnecessary (a fourth wall breaking in the first scene, a la Curious Incident), there is plenty to applaud.
Thomas is a quietly brilliant play which seamlessly integrates a story of living with Asperger’s alongside a more typical coming-of-age narrative; an outstanding piece of work by a debut writer who we are sure to hear more from.