Touch Blue Touch Yellow shares common ground with Curious Incident of the Night with an autistic young boy who is pedantic, obsessed with astronomy and unaware of others’ emotions, social interaction and conforming.
This play gave many good examples of the difficulties in reading others, social expectations, isolation, confusion and lack of understanding with metaphor and implied language, whilst showing no real plot. It concentrates on the difficulties of the boy Carl as he struggles to cope with school, work and life in general. This is all done well as very familiar to anyone with a basic experience of autism.
The opening scene with Carl taking “faces” from the audience and reacting to them is difficult to interpret, when he shows himself to have such a difficulty in reading others, even his mother’s face subsequently.
Where Curious Incident of the Night portrays issues of sensory overload, this play emphasises Carl’s internal anxiety with the scenes of self-harm and stimming very well presented, and this makes emotional viewing. For the actor Joshua Manfield particularly accomplished scenes are those with the therapist and with trying to socialise in the pub.
Although it seems something of a stereotypical the portrayal of the family, with a caring mother who expects others to understand and accommodate her son and a father hopelessly expects something can be done to normalize his son, it is is done well. The most disturbing scene, where the title of the play is explained, is that with the therapist. The futility of the process of a compliant intervention and the distress it causes Carl is tangible. Even the father appears to find this difficult and wants to protect his son.
The overall tone of the play is negative with the many problems Carl is experiencing in the world, but the poems are mainly uplifting and work well within the structure of the play, often leaving one with a sense of hope that it otherwise leaves behind.
The play portrays the social isolation of autism and the reasons behind this. However, it shows an insight into the individual’s mind as to how he wishes to be involved in everyday social events but cannot cope with the demands these make of him. It’s successful in dispelling common notions that individuals with autism lack emotions and do not wish to fit in with others. The result of this difficulty is all too often depression and breakdown of the family unit, as occurs in the play. The exploration of the on-line community as an escape for the individual works well.
Overall the play is a success with good acting (particularly Carl) with minimal props in an intimate stage setting. However, for a viewer who is aware of autism and how it affects families, it plays too much on stereotypes and only gives a narrow interpretation of living with an autistic child. But then it is a play about one individual and as such should be applauded for the way it portrays his difficulties in a realistic fashion.
Our critic Denis Lennon’s review: http://www.asiw.co.uk/reviews/touch-yellow-touch-blue-tim-rhys
In the author’s words: http://www.asiw.co.uk/my-own-words/touch-blue-touch-yellow-tim-rhys
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