ABOUT half-way through Brendan Murray’s new play, Martin Butler recalls a workmate commenting on the Butlers’ four-year old son Matty. The man says what a lovely little boy he is, but adds “what a shame” that he has Down’s syndrome.
Martin (Vic Llewellyn) realises that he and his wife Odette love Matty as he is and don’t want him any other way.
But while an affectionate, charming child is easy to love, everyday life becomes more difficult as the child becomes a man, still with many “childish” traits but also with adult thoughts and drives. And questions have to be asked about what happens when the parents aren’t there any more.
When Odette dies, (shortly before the play begins), Martin loses his other half and Matty (Nathan Bessell) loses the person who has always been there with him and for him, every step of the way. They are both cut adrift in a world they are not fully equipped to deal with. Martin is no cook – they are living on takeaway pizza. And he can’t work out which buttons to press on the washing machine.
Matty knows his mother has died and he misses her. But he also knows she is still with him and that the things that matter are “friends, family, together.” And he wants a boyfriend.
If that all makes Myrtle Theatre Company’s Up Down Man sound like heavy going – it’s not. It is a delightful, touching, funny and beautiful play, full of love and hope and laughter and dancing.
Matty loves to dance and with the inventive and fluid choreography of Bryn Thomas (who also plays Jim, Matty’s imaginary boyfriend), Matty/Nathan can give full rein to a deep feeling for movement, a love of rhythm and an almost spiritual ability to lose himself in dance. Matty can’t sing. But boy, can he dance!
The plot’s pivot is Martin and Odette’s planned ruby wedding anniversary party – Matty wants the party to go ahead, and Martin doesn’t think it can, without Odette. Matty says Odette will be there – he has her ashes, in a basket of her favourite things.
Odette (Heather Williams – who is also the artistic director of Myrtle Theatre) is on stage almost all the time, watching her family’s struggles.
We learn a lot about how this family works, how having a Down’s Syndrome child changes lives and how much family and friends can learn from that child – as a child and as an adult.
I love this play. I regretted that I didn’t see Up Down Boy, which was written by Nathan’s mother Sue (who is still very much alive, by the way) but this is not a conventional sequel. It stands on its own (dancing) feet and deserves to have as much success as its predecessor.
Pictures of Nathan Bessell (Matty), Emily Bowker (Darcy) and Vic Llewellyn (Martin), by Richard Davenport.