Thursday, 2 November 2017

REVIEW: JOY at Gerry’s at Theatre Royal Stratford East

Joy (Imogen Roberts) wants to have a normal life and enjoy her independence like everyone else. Since she was born, her father John (Danny Scheinmann) and her sister Mary (Rachael Bright) did everything to shelter her from those who could take advantage of her goodwill, but the time to fly the nest is now rightfully approaching. Like other people around her, Joy wants to hang out with her friends, have her own house and get married to her boyfriend Paul (Deen Hallisey), but her family finds it hard to let her go.

In this sweet and inspiring coming of age play written by Stephanie Martin, a young girl with Down's syndrome claims her right to have an adult life, an academic career, a job, read romantic novels and join an art club.

"Disability is a shit word," writes Joy in a letter to her father. "I’m not using it anymore. So, I’ve decided, I am not a pet. I am just me. And I love being me."

As a part of a college project, Joy is doing a research about people like her in Victorian times and in her day-dreams she often sees Maud (EJ Martin) and her sister Mabel (Stephanie Newman) travelling across a hostile London to reach Normansfield Hospital – the structure founded by Dr. John Langdon Down to shelter and observe patients with learning disabilities.

Transitions between these vignettes and various episodes of Joy's life are choreographed with the help of Calista Robertson's original soundtrack and the ingenious use of a black background surface that the cast use like a big slate board to join the dots with a white marker and reveal the outline of relevant objects or key words. On this board, successively appear part of Joy's bedroom, the signs of the swimming pool she visits with her friend Sue (Kate Lynn Evans) and the Normansfield Hospital door. 

This play is crucial to better understanding individuals who have different
requirements to others and finally remove the prejudicial barriers that hinder them from the possibility of a normal and fulfilling life. With its humorous touch and critical topic, Joy sets ground for a much sought-after equality and inclusion in the arts, demonstrating that it is mainly society itself responsible for creating disabilities where it fails to cater for diversity. More understanding and empathy towards individuals with different psycho-physical characteristics would allow them equal opportunities of personal development and self-achievement. 

I really hope to see more often amazing performers like Imogen Roberts, Stephanie Newman and Deen Hallisey. They are not only entitled to take centre stage like anyone else but, more importantly, necessary for the portrayal of any character under a different perspective, and not only those who present autobiographical traits.

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★★★
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