“It hits people, not hard, but it creeps up on you,” says Joanne Hartstone. The Adelaide producer is talking about her new theatre production We Live by the Sea, which is running at Royal Croquet Club during the Fringe.
The “quietly emotional” show by UK company Patch of Blue centres on teenager Katy, who has autism, and her burgeoning friendship with the new boy in her sleepy coastal town. The audience is plunged into her world through a sensory overload of playful visuals, imaginary characters and a live electronic score. It’s a rarely seen portrayal of the experiences of a woman on the autism spectrum.
“Having some representation in art is really important,” says Hartstone. “There’s been some movement towards making sure our screens are not quite as whitewashed, but I think it’s important to have broad representation of all members of our society and all the people who could enjoy this experience.”
The show comes to Adelaide Fringe fresh from critically acclaimed and sold-out runs in Edinburgh, London and New York (the New York Times listed the show as one of its Top Memorable Theatre Moments of 2016).
“It connects with a lot of people,” says Hartstone. “The themes, the quiet humanity and the every-story that it tells. It doesn’t try to be bigger than it is.”
The show – which was developed in association with the UK’s National Autistic Society – had a particular pull for Hartstone, who has previously worked with local teenagers on the autism spectrum.
Broadsheet: Have you had any response from people with autism who have come to see the play?
Joanne Hartstone: When I saw the show for the first time, I was sitting next to a boy with autism. At times he had to go and put headphones in his ears because it was too loud for him and at other times he took them out and he was crying. His mum said he felt like someone had seen something that he could see. It was a pretty powerful experience for him. He felt like he was represented in some way, that someone had told something he could understand.
In Edinburgh they had quite a few people with autism come and see the show and they’ve varied some performances to do [autism friendly] shows where they reduce the lighting so it’s not quite as extreme and they’ve had a great response.
BS: Will there be autism-friendly performances in Adelaide?
JH: We have offered it. And we are currently talking with two charities in Adelaide, Autism SA and Aspect, and we’re trying to offer their communities [the chance] to come and see the show. To make it possible for them we have matinee performances and the option of autism-friendly performances, so the show is flexible.
BS: What was the inspiration behind creating this work?
JH: The company wanted to work on something that would resonate with people. They’re a relatively young theatre company – all in their mid-to-late twenties – and they wanted to create something that’s their own and something that’s socially responsible, something eye-opening and transportive; taking us into an experience a lot of people wouldn’t necessary have themselves.
We Live by the Sea is at the Empire Theatre at Royal Croquet Club from February 16 to March 18. Tickets are available here.
This article was updated on February 13, 2018.