Julius Robertson: 'Autistic people have extraordinary minds, this play will help you understand us more'

The ”Holby City” star, who has autism, reflects on his visit to ”Burning Bridges” at Theatre503

Burning Bridges at Theatre503/Julius Robertson
Burning Bridges at Theatre503/Julius Robertson
I’ve seen plays about so many subjects from heartbreak to the Holocaust to How To Kill Your Husband. (That was my mother’s opera actually. Dad didn’t like that one!) But I hardly ever see autism dramatised on stage. Especially autistic females.

Autism is an invisible disability – we don’t have a white stick or a wheelchair. That makes it hard for people to understand how different we are and how hard life can be. We don’t read social situations well and constantly feel anxious about saying the wrong thing or making the wrong decision. Anxiety can break you down.

I found it compelling to see an autistic female as the protagonist in this play.

But having said that, autistic people are very different. There’s not just one type. The Rain Man stereotype is very annoying. I don’t like movies and plays which portray autism as just one thing and one type. It’s totally misleading. We are as varied as snowflakes – but not flakey at all. Just different.

I found it compelling to see an autistic female as the protagonist in this play. With her OCD and anxieties and tangential way of looking at life, she rang totally true to me. She’s smart and funny but socially isolated. She misreads situations and accidentally creates chaos all around her, especially when she seduces her sister’s husband and then lies about it to the police – unaware of the havoc she’s unleashed.

What I really liked is the combination of drama and comedy, because having autism can be hilarious at times as you see the world differently, through a different lens. The combination of drama with comedy is quite powerful.

I thought the casting was excellent too. Anne Adams and Rae Brogan were excellent in different ways. The autistic sister Sarah (Brogan) is intense and quirky. The neurotypical sister Kate (Adams) – voluptuous and sensual. And Simon Bubb as Kate’s husband Dan is very convincing, as a nice ordinary guy who finds himself sandwiched between two extraordinary women.

And the play has a positive message, ultimately, because Sarah finds her niche at University and starts to get a life. Life can be hard for autistic people – we want to work, we need to work, but its really hard to get a job despite the fact that our brains are unique – Einstein, Mozart, Warhol, Steve Jobs – were all on the autistic spectrum. Most autistic people end up living on benefits, in bedsits. Less than 15 per cent of autistic people are in the work force, which is a much lower rate than for other disabilities. But with the right understanding we could give back to society in the most interesting ways, because of our unusual intellects.

I’m lucky enough to be an actor in the BBC medical drama called Holby City. The BBC took a bold step in casting me in Holby – it was the first time that an autistic actor has ever played an autistic character in a major BBC show. In the old days, when movies depicted Rain Man, he was played by Dustin Hoffman. Today, he would be played by an autistic actor. With Holby, the BBC took a risk, and it paid off.

This play will help you understand us more and give you a window into our brains.

My only criticism is that maybe next time they write a play about an autistic person, they could cast an autistic actor.

In truth there is no such thing as normal and abnormal, just ordinary and extraordinary. And I think you’ll find that autistic people do have the most extraordinary minds. This play will help you understand us more and give you a window into our brains.

Burning Bridges runs at Theatre503 until 8 October.