This unique promenade adaptation of Japanese author Naoki Higashida’s book The Reason I Jump turns the Children’s Wood at North Kelvin Meadow – a patch of wooded, communal tenement garden just north of Glasgow’s busy West End – into a tricky-to-navigate maze boundaried by zigzag-shaped wooden slats. Designed by Andre Dekker and Geert van de Camp of Rotterdam-based art and architecture group Observatorium, these barriers allow us to view all around us, but often not actually to reach our destination without taking the long way around.
Perhaps the very design of the piece is intended to mirror the inner life of a person with autism – as much as that can be understood given the many and varied different manifestations of the condition – with different routes mapped out to take us all to the same destination in the end. As we walk, we encounter small stages and performance spaces set within clearings and sheltered under trees, and at each point one of the ensemble of autistic performers assembled by creator and director Graham Eatough waits to talk to us.
Each has a prepared monologue on the subject of their own life with autism, an enlightening reflection with brings a sense of recognition within the audience; for example, Calum Macritchie muses on his own love for jumping and the feeling of being liberated from gravity as his feet leave the ground, and Emma McCaffrey – a powerful actor who has worked with the Lung Ha’s company – makes a vivid plea for understanding.
At intervals, Japanese flute player Philip Horan moves between the stages and each actor silently performs to the reading of a short piece of text from the 2007 book by Higashida, a 13-year-old who communicated non-verbally at the time of the book’s writing. One particularly striking example is a masked play on the central stage involving the whole company, a story in which a wide-eyed young boy imagines his own death and – unable to read her mother’s mood properly as he observes from the afterlife – the moral dilemma of whether to purge his memories and being from existence if it means he might be reborn as his parents’ next child.
Throughout, a continued emphasis on engagement with nature as a means toward good mental health is made, and the delightfully reflective and personal – and autism-friendly, naturally – manner in which the piece is experienced allows the audience to commune with the space and performances on their own terms. With a recommended participation time of around an hour, the experience is one of total immersion while still feeling able to breathe clearly.
The Reason I Jump at The Children’s Wood and North Kelvin Meadow, Glasgow, until June 23rd. For more details click here.