The Reason I Jump

The Children’s Wood and North Kelvin Meadow, Glasgow

Mary Brennan, four stars

Map in hand, we enter the maze that currently winds under the trees and across the grass of the North Kelvin Meadow. The maze, designed by Dutch collective Observatorium, is a lattice-work of wooden poles: a boundary fence that you can look through, but can only cross at certain points.

It is a cleverly symbolic setting for the latest site-specific production by the National Theatre of Scotland, The Reason I Jump. The maze, and the labyrinth pathway at its heart, are the setting for director Graham Eatough’s adaptation of a book – written by a non-verbal, autistic Japanese teenager, Naoki Higashida – that offers glimpses into Naoki’s world, alongside his insights into how ‘normal’ people regard those with autism. And even if we can’t truly walk a mile in Naoki’s shoes, we can – in the course of the maze – meet autistic performers who generously give of themselves and their personal experiences, with unstinting honesty and humour.

Naoki’s book takes the form of questions and answers, 58 of them in all. These questions filter into each performer’s monologue. We sit round a fire with Michael Dawson, hearing how his undiagnosed autism made schooldays brutal – his diagnosis as an adult, however, saw friends distance themselves through mis-placed assumptions.

Nicola Tuxworth allied her reflections on being autistic – “why am I unfinished? – with the strength and power of the judo moves that saw her representing Scotland in competition.

Emma McCaffrey, with her 58 jars of leaf-munching caterpillars, used their imminent transformation into butterflies as a way of reminding us that autism doesn’t cocoon you from being sensitive, creative or compassionate.

And then there’s Calum Macritchie, bouncing on a boxed-in trampoline, full of an infectious energy that embraces being active, being close to nature and being an enthusiastic fan of Studio Ghibli – me too, Calum. Thank you all for sharing so openly – defying the maze, with such memorably direct performances.