Review by Regan Baker
Due to an ever-increasing work schedule, it’s been a couple of months since my last outing to Queensland Theatre, but for Drizzle Boy an exception absolutely had to be made. Winner of the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award, this play was announced at the pre-show celebration of The Almighty Sometimes in August last year, for which my partner and I were also lucky enough to be in attendance. Writer and award recipient, Ryan Ennis touted Drizzle Boy on stage during his acceptance speech as being an authentic, lived experience of what it is like to grow up with neurodiversity. Having autism himself, Ennis grew up without ever seeing a true representation of himself on stage or screen and created this wonderful coming-of-age story to connect all audiences, regardless of neurotype. It is one of the first ever plays written by, about and performed by people that are neurodivergent and is a true celebration of humanity without limits or stereotypes.
Drizzle Boy is the story of a neurodivergent young man who is starting the next chapter in his life at university with the end goal of becoming an astronaut. A straightforward plan according to Drizzle Boy, that is, until he begins to realise the world isn’t quite so simple and the power structures within society sometimes make space a little farther from reach than anticipated. From navigating relationships, balancing expectations of oneself with those of the people who love you most, and courage in the face of adversity, Drizzle Boy explores complex themes in such a unique and beautiful way that left the audience spellbound.
Every element of Drizzle Boy was encapsulated superbly within the lead characters own space, and his desire to reach for the stars. The set design by Christina Smith paid homage to the ovular shape of the earth, or the giant balls of gas, rock or ice that make up the planets, stars and suns of our universe through a circular, rotating disc at the centre of the stage. The design is also used to reflect Drizzle Boy’s internal monologue and the demon Baphomet that plagues his subconscious through projections of images and patterns that dance around the disc like neurons firing in the brain.
With a neurodiverse audience front of mind, the show used lighting signals as ‘sensory warnings’ throughout the play, with the first indicating unwanted touching, the second to indicate an upcoming loud sound effect and the third for an upcoming flashing or strobe lighting effect. This was an effective tool to help audience members understand the unseen effects of Autism while also adding a sweeping colour palette to the stage. The lighting used throughout the show was highly effective in drawing the audience into Drizzle Boy’s universe and the way he perceives the world. In a similar fashion, the sound design by Guy Webster elevated the notion of space exploration and the sometimes-chaotic thoughts, feelings and emotions that run through Drizzle Boy’s mind. His score was enchanting and somewhat hypnotic in its rhythm and flow, and immersed the audience in the fast paced plot of the characters arc.
In his debut performance for Queensland Theatre, neurodiverse actor Daniel R Nixon dominated the stage and emphatically embodied everything the play stood for and the character Ennis fought so hard to write. He was incredibly well-spoken and delivered a character that was loveable, even in his flaws. He presented us the vision of a dreamer who would stop at nothing to prove his worth and achieve his goals. If you did absolutely no research before attending this play you would quite genuinely leave not realising that Nixon himself has Autism, which is precisely what the creative team wanted for Drizzle Boy: A show that shows the extent of what people can do in a space void of stereotypes or preconceived ideas.
Alongside Nixon was the incredibly talented Naomi Price, who played several roles throughout the play with varying levels of complexity and depth. As Drizzle Boy’s love interest, Juliet, I found Price to be a little one note and lacking a certain spark that I have seen her deliver in so many other productions, which is so sad to say since I have loved everything I have ever seen her do theatrically (mostly through her own production company, Little Read Theatre Co.) I quite enjoyed her other roles however, most notably as Valentina Tereshkova, a Russian Cosmonaut and Drizzle Boy’s idol. Her over-the-top acting, combined with stereotypical and eccentric Russian Accent made for a beautiful comic relief during some of the more emotionally investing scenes. As Drizzle Boys mother she provoked many emotional responses from the audience as she delicately balanced the protective nature she was so used to as his mother, with his requests to be left to his own devices as a growing young man.
Rounding out the cast was the hilarious and brilliantly cast Kevin Spink, whose roles included Drizzle Boys father and his university lecturer, Hans Asperger. Spink delivered both roles with finesse, while providing both comic relief and emotion on vastly different scales. The complexity of Drizzle Boys father were superbly characterized as it required impeccable timing to shift between a quite simple character who talks mostly through movie references, and the emotional depth of a man who unconditionally loves his son no matter his condition. He was also insanely funny as the university lecturer and provided us with an over-the-top German accent, similar to that of Price’s Tereshkova.
Every element of this play was executed with the most superb precision and was a testament to the entire team and the multiple re-writes, workshops and growth that it underwent before hitting the stage this March. Drizzle Boy is a play that needs to be told and needs reach beyond just Queensland Theatre. It is a story that truly encapsulates the experiences of those who are neurodivergent and creates a space for them to be inspired and empowered.