In the centre of the Unicorn’s Weston Theatre is a large box-shaped rig. Suspended from it are six paired ‘nest seats’, in which are sat the audience attending this morning’s performance of Oily Cart’s Something in the Air – young people with profound and multiple learning disabilities or autistic spectrum disorders and their carers. Because the children seeing the show today are very small and mainly sharing seats with their carers, there is space for me to have a chair of my own, rather than observe from outside the rig as I would otherwise have had to do. The experience is an extraordinary one.

Once everyone is strapped in, the seats are hoisted into the air and Oily Cart’s collaborators, aerial theatre company, Ockham’s Razor, begins its work. The gentle and elegant aerial performance that unfolds before our eyes is beautiful to watch, but its true power lies in its interactive nature. As the acrobats swings to and fro, so do our chairs, giving the impression that we are flying with them. Later in the show, balls are dropped from on high and our seats echo their bouncing. When another acrobat spins from a hoop, cutting a graceful circle in the playing space of the rig, we go with him, our nests spinning in their pairs.

Tim Webb’s sensitive direction caters for the wide range of complex disabilities that the company encounters in its audiences. Those young people lacking the ability to communicate verbally are engaged with via other means. Each company member carries and takes the name of a different tactile object to make it easier for the young people to connect with them: the helper looking after my nest introduced herself as Wool; Mud greeted us as we arrived. The team from Ockham’s Razor are also brilliant with the audience, whether entertaining from the air, or interacting one-on-one at ground level.

The show’s score, by Max Reinhardt and Arun Ghosh, a blend of recorded sound and live music, rounds off the sensory experience beautifully and gave great pleasure to the young people in attendance at the performance I saw. 

It’s important to acknowledge I think, that Something in the Air was not devised for me or for any other non-disabled adults, critics or otherwise. The young people for whom this show has been created will each respond to it in different ways depending on their individual situations and I cannot speak for them. I write this review therefore as a flawed, albeit highly privileged observer. That acknowledged, I can tell you that this is a wonderfully-crafted piece of work, whose makers deserve the utmost praise for their compassion and artistic commitment.