Joshua (and Me) is a one-person performance centred around a family growing up in Blackpool. Hannah, our main character and focus for the piece, begins aged seven and is telling us all about her family. There’s her Mum, Granddad, brother Ben and other brother Joshua, who has autism. This is a piece which offers a new perspective on growing up in a household with an autistic person, shining a light on siblings without ever distracting from the central topic of neurodivergence.
We stay with Hannah throughout her childhood across the hour runtime, watching her grow into a teenager and then head off to University. The central question that the show poses is this – what happens to carers and family members when their identities become formed around those they care for?
One of the absolute strengths of this production is how three-dimensional each character becomes, even without seeing them on-stage. Writer-Performer Rachel Hammond presents the complexities of Hannah’s relationship with Joshua with intricacy, detail and beautifully crafted storytelling. Each character has their own phrase and mannerisms, all of them appearing only as impressions done by Hannah herself, yet we leave feeling we know them all well.
As we watch Hannah grow up, she has to come to terms with things that other children her age do not, leading to frustrations for her and her other brother Ben but also a kind, compassionate response to the world around them. In a highlight of the story, Hannah learns to copy Joshua’s movements to try and understand why he does them. This is a showing of gentle solidarity with neurodivergent people. Hannah doesn’t just want to accommodate Joshua’s difference, she wants to be a part of his world too.
Joshua (and Me), even just in its title, surmises about how in childhood, siblings of neurodivergent people might feel like their needs are secondary within their family unit. Hammond’s script is deeply caring for everyone involved, absorbing us into the life of this family and presenting us with a nuanced understanding of everyone’s perspective.
Hammond’s central performance is truly stunning and deeply sensitive. Her care for the topic is evident, but her characterisation is neat and whimsical. The whole piece glistens in a buoyant lightness, backed up by additional materials provided to make it a Relaxed Performance.
Hammond utilises looping and music regularly throughout the piece – looping the rules by which she has to interact with Joshua against a beat as both reminder and, later in the piece, a representation of a throbbing overwhelmingness to be both the sibling she needs to be and her own person. The presentation of autism throughout is immensely accessible, delivering a nuanced world for us to enter and explore, comforted by the feeling that you’re in Hammond’s safe hands.
Joshua (and Me) is touching, heartfelt and exceptional in its outlook on neurodivergence. It is a work which feels incredibly important, a window into a world which many shut off. As Hannah notes within the piece, people stare at Joshua when he’s out in the world being who he is. Theatre like this helps us access each other more, and build bridges where traditional structures like the Government fail. Catch Joshua (and Me) at the Pleasance 10Dome between August 6th and 29th (except on the 17th) at 10:55. Tickets are available through the EdFringe Box Office.