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Plastic Figurines (Liverpool Playhouse)

Ella Carmen Greenhill's play shines a spotlight on the relationship between a young woman and her autistic brother

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Remmie Milner as Rose and Jamie Samuel as Mikey
© Lucas Smith

All of us will know a certain amount about autism, from the MMR scandal to that popular play and book... but a curious incident and a much publicized controversy can't compare with the reality of looking after a sibling 24/7. There may be no bio in the programme for author Ella Carmen Greenhill, but it's hard to doubt she does not know of what she writes.

This constrained way of life is enhanced by the claustrophobia of a studio, the play being mainly set in a waiting room. There's a problem, however, in portraying boredom: hanging around and lengthy silences risk making you restless, no matter how gripping the plot or humourous the lines. Plastic Figurines mostly surrounds autistic brother Mikey's painful attempts, literally so, to get a grasp on the world, but again, the comedy is a little inconsistent, as if unintentionally forgotten at certain points.

That said, when it comes, the shocking row between Mikey and his sister Rose is all the more powerful by contrast with the longeurs and the levity. However, it's a bit too far removed from the abrupt ending, interspersed with flashback scenes; a more direct following on could still provide a twist in the tale, and would be less disconcerting than the lack of explanation and sudden taking by surprise.

The play constantly shifts back and forth between present and past. Thus waiting room is transformed into home, if maybe not so much for Rose; of necessity, she seems to spend her life waiting. At best, for her life to get going; at worst - for the worst to happen. We learn about Michael's college and his nowhere near sentimental education, and sometimes childhood is evoked, life with their Mum. Then it's back to the present, and back to the future, and what future for the two of them?

Both Remmie Milner and Jamie Samuel give exemplary performances, totally believable as siblings. We feel for her predicament and her frustration, devoted to a brother who cannot bear shows of affection, wrestles awkwardly with any idea of empathy, and comes out with gobsmacking statements. Everybody watching was laughing along with Mikey, not at him; his relentless logic, obsessions (with accuracy, for example) and the need for reason and routine, desperately seeking certainty in a world constantly shifting around him.

A brave, original play that would be a shame to miss.

Plastic Figurines runs at Liverpool Playhouse Studio until 11 April, before touring until 6 May