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TRCH Hairspray

Theatre Review: Cartoonopolis

21 March 17 words: Hazel Ward

What are we going to do tonight, Brain? See a one-person show about autism, family life and cartoons? Nerf!

Cartoonopolis

Lewis Bray in Cartoonopolis

Cartoonopolis is a tale of two worlds, both centered around one person; Jack, the brother of writer and performer Lewis Bray. Jack loves cartoons, hates change, and was born with autism. In Bray’s autobiographical and energetic one-person show, he draws the audience into his brother’s creation, a place where familiar cartoon characters wander around. Buzz Lightyear and Woody, Pinky and the Brain, and even the Wombles pop up, all brought to life through Lewis’ entertaining impressions. Scenes and music from cartoons are incorporated into the narrative, giving us a recognizable point of reference which immediately makes Jack’s world familiar and as comforting to us as it is to him.

This fantastical landscape contrasts with the day-to-day life of the Bray’s, an ordinary family who never give up on trying to make sure Jack is given the chance to live his own life. Peppered with humour, these prosaic scenes go into the more mundane, from mother Bev making sure every sandwich is cut into eight, to Jack encountering frightening changes like a new driver, or being at the mercy of an unsympathetic teacher.

Towards the end the story splits into two perspectives, one following the exploits of Jack’s cartoon posse in Cartoonopolis, and the other showing the Bray parents trying desperately to make sure Jack receives proper support and education. Bray nimbly skips between these two facets of Bray family life, so we bounce from rooting for Jack and Lewis to defeat dastardly Mayor Sharp, to sharing Bev and dad Nige’s frustration over an uncaring, underfunded system; ultimately the audience sees that although battling a super-villain is risky business, the bigger struggle comes from wrestling with government and social bureaucracy. The scene ‘between’ mum and dad when they break-down under the pressure is lovely, a quiet, intimate and affecting moment that effectively conveys love, fear, anger, hopelessness, and hope.

Apart from a few slightly broad moments when Bray has to lay out the traits of each character he’ll be playing – a somewhat common issue in one-person shows – the scenes flow easily, and he slips seamlessly into each distinct personality, each with their own body language, without ever sliding across into parody or stereotype. Could there be some judicious trimming done? Maybe – the first Toy Story scene goes on a little too long, for example. However, the simple charm Bray exudes, the clear affection he has for his family, and his comic energy make the story fly by.

Ultimately, Cartoonpolis gives insight into living with autism from various perspectives, without ever turning Jack into a symbol of autism – as Bray says in the play, every person who has autism is different. Cartoonopolis invites you to see into the Bray’s own unique experiences, and it’s an invitation well worth taking up.

 

Cartoonopolis was at Nottingham Playhouse's Neville Studio on Saturday 18 March 2017.

Nottingham Playhouse website

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