Review: Plastic Figurines, New Diorama

“I love him
I love him so much but
Sometimes I…”

One day, Jamie Samuel will appear in a play that doesn’t make me cry, but today is not that day. Along with co-star Remmie Milner in Ella Carmen Greenhill’s play Plastic Figurines, he exerted as persistent and powerful a hold on my tear ducts as he did in the glorious Jumpers for Goalposts as this quietly devastating piece of new writing unfolds its fractured narrative with all the bruised authenticity and honesty of the most intimate diary.

That feeling is appropriate too as though the play is fictional, it is inspired by elements of Greenhill’s own life as you can feel that in every jab and joke of the complicated sibling relationship here, and in the sensitive, nuanced depiction of autism on which the plot hinges. After their mother is diagnosed with terminal leukaemia, Rose has to leave university life in Edinburgh to return to the family home to look after teenage brother Mikey.

But treading the fine line between being a sister and being a carer is a difficult one as Mikey’s strictly literal and logical view on the world colours their every interaction. From his lightly comic inability to grasp the concept of bluffing in Cluedo to the heart-breaking interpretation of the doctor’s utterance “she’s a fighter”, Samuel finds oceans of empathy in a young man who always has to work that bit harder, yet can still recognise the value in letting his big sister be right once in a while.

Milner’s Rose is just as moving though, her shoulders weighed down by responsibility and her patience severely tested but never letting us forget the undying affection that underpins their bond, even in its most guilt-ridden moments. And as the scene structure flashes forward and back, aided immeasurably by the elegant washes of Richard Owen’s lighting, the depth of that connection but also the scale of their shared challenges comes into full view.

Adam Quayle’s production skilfully plays off the grief-stricken moments with flashes of levity and real humour that combine to beautiful effect and so you’re not laughing, then you’re crying, such is the simple profundity of the writing, of the performances, of the whole of Box of Tricks’ production. One tiny note is that the final beat feels a little hurried but all that does is make Plastic Figurines one of the best plays I’ve seen in 2015 as opposed to THE best. Hugely recommended.

Running time: 75 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 18th April, then touring to Old Town Hall, Hemel Hempstead; The Met, Bury; Hull Truck; Square Chapel Centre for the Arts, Halifax; The Atkinson, Southport; Whitby Hall, Ellesmere Port; The Mill at the Pier, Wigan; The Civic, Barnsley; Harrogate Studio Theatre; The Lowry, Salford Quays; Derby Theatre; Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury; and Clywd Theatr Cymru, Mold

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