By Theodora Galanis
Presented by Adelaide-based Company AT with support from Tutti Arts, Impersonal Space offers audiences of all ages a humorous and heart-warming insight into life with autism. The plot follows 'Nameless’, a hyper-intelligent and curious nine-year-old girl, as she navigates life with autism.
‘Nameless’ immediately wins the affection of the audience. With a quirky attitude, the young girl charms everyone with her innocent quips and obsession with hot chips. However, she also experiences anguish in uncomfortable situations and is bullied at school for being “dopey” and “weird”. Despite the resistance from her mother, her father takes her to be diagnosed by a doctor. Though each character processes the new information differently, no one does so better than ‘Nameless’. Identifying with her scientific heroes Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton, she learns to find strength and confidence in her differences.
The script, written by local playwright Emily Steele, is highly polished and well-paced. The dialogue is concise and simple, but also manages to capture an intensity of emotion in each scene. Audiences are transported into the minds of the characters, as Steele gives voice to each inner monologue. For example, when taking ‘Nameless’ out to dinner, the parents are shadowed by two other actors who commentate their thoughts. This playful technique is a source of great comedy, but also emphasises the difficulties of sharing your honest opinions about a sensitive situation. For the adults in the audience, these scenes are hilariously relatable and familiar.
The soundscape, designed by Sascha Budimski, offers yet another way into the mind of the characters. The background noise works to accentuate and compliment the emotional trajectory of the scenes, where the loud and suffocating noises allow audiences to tune into the auditory world of someone with autism.
Director, Julian Jaensch, delivers a highly engaging mix of realism and fantasy that captures the attention of all ages. Each scene features seamless blocking transitions and movement sequences that almost give the effect of a movie montage. In addition, each scene begins by with an announcement of the location – a technique which is Brechtian in its style. This helps to give clarity to the fast-moving action which is set against a rather non-descript backdrop.
Meg Wilson’s set and costume design features bright pastels and contrasting colours, though it is quite simple by design. Two wooden boards painted in a seafoam green are set upstage with various knick-knacks hanging from them. While large blocks are used to build various structures and furniture pieces, the actors otherwise rely on mime instead of handling props. Like the character’s names, the setting acts as a blank, ‘impersonal’ canvas, in which the audience can connect by projecting their own experiences on to the show.
The motif of stargazing and the planetary system is threaded throughout Impersonal Space and takes on new meaning in the closing scene. As ‘Nameless’ sits in between her mum and dad staring into the night sky, we understand that planets, like humans, are all composed differently but still orbit around the same sun.
Despite the play’s energetic pace, Jaensch does not race through the moments that need more attention, and the actor’s really take their time to explore the nuance in each interaction. This balance of complex emotion with theatrical play establishes Impersonal Space as a piece of brilliant family theatre.
Unlike the title suggests, Impersonal Space does not present a detached and objective view of life with autism, but rather a personal and emotional celebration of the beauty of childhood imagination, love, and acceptance.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.