Hannah has two older brothers: Ben (who's full name is Benjamin) and Joshua (who must never be called Josh). Growing up in their household wasn't the same as her friends. Aged 7, she wants to be a princess pop star spy, but by 18, she is struggling to be anything but a sister to Joshua, who is autistic.
Joshua (and Me), written and starring Rachel Hammond, is a really beautiful piece of theatre that reflects a part of society that is often otherwise silenced or overlooked, that is brought to light in a sensitive and engaging way. Showing Hannah's desperation to understand a world never understood unless in it, yet accommodating factors that have consistently altered hers, it is apparent that everything must be done with Joshua in mind.
Upon arrival, the audience are each given a pipe cleaner to aid concentration throughout the show. Alongside this, there are numerous thoughtful notions of accessibility, such as reserved seating for those who may need to leave, as well as synopsis and cue sheets, and ear defenders available. In addition, the lighting is effective on stage, while not becoming too dark either. These are in place for every performance to make it relaxed, and set a perfect example for the ease at which these things could become more prevalent in theatre.
Set to the beat of Rachel on the loop pedal, this technique is used frequently over the course of the show, and is a creative ways of demonstrating the rules that Hannah had to follow in order to help Joshua remain calm. With sounds often overlapping, it represents the constant considerations she had to think of, and became more overwhelming as time went on, showing how these affected her wellbeing too. As they both grow up, some of the more fixed rules become relaxed or altered, and new ways of being take their place.
The narrative itself follows the family throughout childhood, as their parents seek support from over in America, Ben gets a girlfriend and goes off to university, Joshua is navigating getting older, and Hannah tries to pursue her dreams of being a musician. Always wanting to play her instruments (whereby we get to see Rachel both on the piano and saxophone), she and Ben share a love for music that keeps them distracted amid the chaos that ensues in their house and minds. They long for their brother to be a part of this too. From routines such as having the same meals each week, to stifling grief to show compassion towards Joshua, there is a huge impact on her life and the family priorities when having to care for him is always at the forefront of their thoughts. Hannah also makes comic strips before big events to help him process them better, which is just a small part of the developments over the years that help her communicate with her brother better.
Rachel shows great skill and talent with her expressions and characterisations over the course of the whole show, making it easy to depict who is speaking, despite minimal props, and her being the only one to take to the stage.
While acknowledging that this is her story, and each is unique, there are several instances in particular that are relatable for many who have autistic people in their life. A notable moment was when Hannah is allowed to play trains with Joshua, and watches how he interacts, copying in an attempt to figure out what he saw in his movements. Finally discovering his eye colour, the precious realisation was so moving if the concept is familiar. Another was when Joshua suggested playing a game as a family, which they all really enjoyed, and wished it could be more common to be able to connect with him in that way.
Joshua (and Me) is a wonderfully articulated piece. It is clear in showing both the joys and tribulations of having an autistic sibling, of which many can identify with to some degree, and gives a rounded experience that is honest in its telling. Rachel has written with the ideal tone to present this without overshadowing the autistic voice, and is very considerate in her performance that presents a story that isn't widely spoken of. Overall, the play excellently captures how we all strive to understand one another despite differences, and ultimately through love.
To read my interview with Rachel Hammond, click here: