Rachel Hammond- interview

After unfortunately having to cancel part of the run back in February, Joshua (And Me), written and performed by Rachel Hammond, was cut short, and I was unable to see and review it. However, it is back!


Depicting the narrative of Hannah and her family. Her brother Joshua is autistic. Here, she discusses how they navigate each other's worlds, and understand particularly about her view as a sibling.


Rachel has spoken a bit about this, what the show means to her and why you should see it too. Read on to find out more.

 

Please may you talk a little about your story, and how Joshua (And Me) came to be?

I grew up in Blackpool, with 2 older brothers, Joseph and Thomas. Joseph is the eldest, and he is autistic.

I have always loved music and theatre, it's how we connected as a family, but I struggled to find a story that represented my experience as a sibling of an autistic person. It’s something I’d rarely discuss, for fear of being misunderstood - that if I told my story, it would lessen Joseph’s. Then, a few years ago, I met with someone else who also has an autistic sibling, and realised that I’m not the only one to feel this way.

We asked: what if there was a show built on acceptance and love; which provided permission and space for siblings to honestly and openly explore their experiences? Enter ‘Joshua (and Me)’.

Can you describe the show, and discuss why people should come and see it? Joshua (and Me) is a one woman show, following the journey of Hannah, the youngest sibling in a family of 5. Hannah loves princesses, pop stars, and pretending to be a spy. Her greatest mission is to understand Joshua. Ben lets her sit in his room, play with his toys, and even sometimes gives her a hug. She's not allowed to do any of these things with Joshua. It's like he speaks a different language, sometimes. Her mum says they need to "learn to understand each other's worlds". Mission accepted.

As Hannah grows, so does her understanding of Joshua. We journey with her from seven, through to teenage years, until, finally it's time to leave home. But Hannah's life has been moulded around the needs of Joshua. "I don't know who I am if I'm not his sister".

Full of music, love and laughter, Joshua (and Me) explores what it's like to grow up in a family where, however loved you are, your needs are not your family's first concern.

A few years ago, my friend put me in touch with a wonderful woman who also has an autistic brother. We chatted for hours. It was the first time I'd ever met someone else with an autistic sibling, and the freedom of talking to someone who understood was so powerful. Though our experiences were very different, the fundamental understanding that a). our siblings were wonderful and we loved them b). some things were difficult and that's okay to acknowledge, and we both felt seen and safe. People should see this show because there are roughly 2 million people like the character of Hannah, living in the UK. If you yourself don't relate to Hannah's story, you will most likely know someone who does.



How is this production unique? This production is focussed entirely on the sibling's point of view, which is, in and of itself, a unique point of view. Almost everyone involved in the creative process has a connection to someone who is, or are themselves, neurodivergent. It was such a wonderful rehearsal room to be a part of - one where everyone's needs were valued.

Every show is accessible, with ear defenders and cue sheets available at the box office, and pipe cleaners on your seat to fiddle with. People may also come and go as they need. It's also unique because it has my brother, Joseph's, fact-checking skills and seal of approval!



Do you think your show was able to both educate and entertain? If so, how? Absolutely. My family dynamic, which the character of Hannah's family is based on, is in itself pretty entertaining - there was never a dull moment in our house! There is a lot of laughter. Plus, the show is packed full of music, played live on stage through a loop pedal. It is also educational as it provides insight into an area of society, and a story not seen often enough on stage.



How do you think performing this show has developed your understanding of autism, as well as of yourself? Every autistic person is different. This show explores one experience of autism from the perspective of a sibling. As the experience is based primarily on my own experience with my brother, Joseph, it has helped me understand him as an individual, and my relationship with him more, but I don't think I can claim to have grown massively in my understanding of autism. If anything, writing and performing Joshua (and Me) has highlighted to me just how vast the spectrum is. I always knew this, but speaking to other families, and writing the show made it even more apparent. What does appear to be common, however, is the impact growing up with an autistic sibling has, and how it shapes you into who you grow to be. As Hannah says towards the end of the show: "I miss Joshua. I've shaped my whole life around him. Maybe I don't know who I am if I'm not his sister". It can be a huge part of siblings identity, as they often take on the role of secondary carer, so what do we do when faced with a world where no one knows, or cares, what it means to be their sibling? For this reason, understanding myself has been a huge journey with Joshua (and Me). I wanted to create a show where other siblings could come and see someone being completely honest about their experience, so that they would feel safe to do the same. In order to do this, however, I needed to be vulnerable and honest about my own.


As a writer and performer, is there a particular aspect that you favour- why or why not? They are two very different experiences, so I don't think I could pick one. I love them both in different ways. They both involve the honour and joy of telling a story that needs to be told, and hopefully making a difference along the way. That's what I love. So to get to do both with Joshua (and Me) is an absolute delight!


Where do you hope Joshua (And Me) goes in the future, and are you able to share what you’re working on next? We are currently in the process of booking a tour for Joshua (and Me) later this year. Which is very exciting! It will be touring both theatres and colleges/schools. My hope is for as many people to see it as possible, and for us to partner up with charities, so we can offer workshops for anyone who might relate to the story of Joshua (and Me). I currently have three projects in the pipeline. One is ready for production, the other two are still in the writing stages - so watch this space!


And lastly, who inspires you, and why?

I know it sounds cliche, especially in relation to the show, but I'm going to say my Mum. She is an absolute powerhouse. The sacrifices she has made for us over the years, and the effort she put in to helping Joseph early on, at a time when the world didn't know much about autism at all, was incredible. She even set up her own charity to support him, finding time to push leaflets through doors, and training up volunteer carers with 2 toddlers (one autistic) and a new born baby (me!). She has spent the last 29 years caring for us all, and now she is finally learning to care for herself, too. Go mum!

 

So lovely to hear from you Rachel, and that you're able to keep sharing your story. Thank you for your answers, and I really look forward to seeing the show!


Make sure to buy your tickets here:

Additional thanks to Matthew Parker for arranging this interview.

Image credit: Lidia Crisafulli