Review: The Isle of Brimsker (The Garage)
Frozen Light's piece for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities opens at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival
The Isle of Brimsker is not a play for the likes of me. Which makes it quite an odd experience seeing it and then, subsequently, reviewing it. Created for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, Frozen Light's remarkable work is a sensory performance. The aim of the show is to create a rounded and enriching experience for audiences who are rarely made to feel welcome enough to cross the threshold of a theatre, let alone see work specifically for them.
Made for six people and their carers, the piece has the audience sat in a semi-circle, each with their own long glittering curtain and a blanket over them. The performers sing, talk, sign and move through the story of a young woman who endeavours to run away and is shipwrecked on a remote island in the process. There she meets a light house keeper, who has been isolated on the island for a long time.
Performers Amber Onat Gregory, Lucy Garland and Al Watts all take a direct but delicate approach to their audience, addressing them clearly and uniquely, giving each one a turn to feel the warmth of a bowl of shells, the cold of a block of ice on their skin during a storm, the sweet taste of a bourbon biscuit when the two characters have a cup of tea. Everything that happens is accompanied by a physical experience, whether that comes from the tall panel of bright soothing lights at the back of the stage, or the gusts of air blown around with the help of a leaf blower during tempestuous weather.
And, of course, the audience can join in, or move around, if they wish, but, crucially, the story continues. Interruptions are inevitable, but they are part of this performance and the company are open, friendly, approachable and engaging throughout. There's not a need to stay in character at all costs.
That's not to say The Isle of Brimsker is all light and smiles. It's surprising how booming the music can get and how dramatic the story becomes. But it's easy to forget that in many cases, the bigger the musical vibrations, the more the audience will experience. One carer whose son was handed a balloon, gave it to me to touch while a track was playing, so that I understood how the noise reverberated through it.
It's hard to judge something that I wasn't experiencing in the way its target audience was, but there did seem to be palpable joy and delight coming from the onlookers when faced with the lights, the shadows, the sensations. And it was easy to see the way the carers, families and friends cherished the chance to relax with their loved ones in a public space, and be told a simple story.
The Isle of Brimsker runs at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival until 19 May and then tours.