Pleasance Dome – 10Dome
The Edinburgh Fringe is relentless. There are more shows than you can possibly see. As soon as you exit one performance, you’re switching your phone back on, checking the time, and working out why Cowgate is underneath you. And then you stumble across an absolute gem of theatre like Joshua (and Me). The play may have finished five or ten minutes ago but I still feel the weight of it in my chest and the welling of tears in my eyes. I can’t think about anything else.
Joshua (and Me) is a one-woman show (performed superbly by Rachel Hammond) about the experience of growing up with a severely autistic sibling, Joshua. We watch as Rachel develops from a young girl trying to understand the rules of how to behave around her older brother, all the way to a woman coming to terms with caring responsibilities that could last her lifetime. Hammond brings this complicated and endearing family dynamic to life wonderfully, and every aspect of the world she creates rings with truth. Scenes showing the repeated patterns of family dinner feel particularly vivid. This is surely as a result of the commendable centring of autistic voices in the development of the piece, which draws on Hammond’s own experiences, along with contributions from people with autism and autistic siblings.
As Rachel learns Joshua’s rules (“no touching without permission”, “Joshua, not Josh”) they’re added to an ever growing backing track of rules that Hammond skilfully creates with a loop pedal and microphone. Music is a central part of the storytelling, and Hammond plays everything from piano to guitar to saxophone, with aplomb. I particular love how she adapts her playing based on her age, shrieking into saxophone crescendos as a child but clearly displaying a more nuanced ability as an adult. As the performance progresses, more and more rules are added into the cacophony until they are overwhelming. It’s a neat way of conveying both the impossibility of getting every interaction with Joshua right, but also how he himself must feel surrounded by ways of behaving he does not understand.
At the root of the play is Rachel’s drive to understand her brother, as she earnestly tries to build a connection with Joshua. The compelling foundations of the piece pay off in these moments, as it achieves incredibly emotional heights. The first time Rachel makes eye contact with her brother – seeing his eye colour, “brown” – is such a simple but beautiful bonding moment. It’s one of many that leave me dewy-eyed throughout. Later, when this desire to understand is reciprocated by Josh (now we’re allowed to call him Josh, keep up with the rules!), there’s an intimate symmetry that shows that he is capable of the same emotional range as his sister – he just expresses it differently.
At the core of this production is a striving for empathy and familial love that we can all relate to. What it brings to light, however, are the challenges of achieving that understanding in a neurodiverse household. In this colourful and moving portrayal there is hope that we can all overcome and understand difference. It is nothing short of outstanding. I’ve seen a lot of shows at this Festival, over the course of this year. None have stayed with me or left me coursing with emotion quite like this one. Joshua (and Me) is an absolute masterclass on the human experience that will leave you aching with love.
Directed by: Lucy Jane Atkinson
Written by: Rachel Hammond
Set Design by: Carly Altberg
Sound Design by: Sophia Beeby
Composition by: Rachel Hammond
Joshua (and Me) plays at EdFringe 2022 until 29 August. Further information and bookings here.