The formal output of a reviewer is the written word. And for those of us that do it regularly, we have a tendency to try to appear clever I think, playing with words in an unnecessarily complicated fashion. I acknowledge, therefore, that I am suffering from neurological normality disorder. What is even worse is that Michael Gove would approve. And after watching Melonade I am a little bit ashamed: not of my ability to do this, but my tendency to take it for granted and to subconsciously judge people by their ability, or otherwise, to do the same.
For the opening Becks Turner bursts onto the stage high fiving the audience in a red and green glittery suit complete with university style mortar board (also red and green). The back of the stage is festooned with a red and green shimmering fringe curtain. She is a watermelon. Why? Well, she is dyslexic, has dyscalculia and ADHD. She struggled in formal education, which increasingly only judges an individual’s worth by the results of a written timed exam. She never got lemons to make lemonade with, just melons, and so melon-ade is the answer. And she is hardly unique: 15% of the UK population is believed to be neurodiverse.
What follows is, on the face of it, a game show with audience participation, which cleverly illustrates the normal means of formal communication, by which I mean writing. When the audience are asked to draw words held up by Turner we are ready, pens poised. Except we’re asked to draw things that have nuance and emotions, two-dimensional objects. The majority of the audience is stumped. The on-stage contestant who is asked to guess the meaning of the drawings is similarly confused and is reduced to simple nouns. And here’s the thing: those of us who are ‘normal’ struggle to communicate visually. And yet that those with neurological ‘disorders’ by contrast are very creative.
Turner mixes the games with political monologues to illustrate how much the government has reduced creative arts funding in education and removed non-timed written ways of formal assessment to marginalise those that struggle to write at speed under pressure. And can we think about this for just a minute? In what real-life job is it any use whatsoever to regurgitate – in an artificially restricted time, with no input from any other relevant professional or industry research – words onto a page. I can’t think of anything. Maybe a politician?!
Turner, by a number of means, reminds us of how vital and effective diversity in approach is as well as how detrimental to this nation’s productivity, not to mention mental health, it is to marginalise those who process differently. She is also clear about the harm it does to children in their formative years when we create ‘normal’ versus ‘different’.
This production is a bit clunky at times, when comic devices such as intervention from the “producer” remind us of the implications of funding cuts, or the necessity for advertising interrupts proceedings for a joke that is told once too often. It’s a shame because Turner is at her most assured and confident when interacting with the audience or talking openly about her own experiences.
This is a performance that may need a little refining but has much to offer an audience in terms of making clear the opportunities that lie ahead for all of us when harnessing all of our potential; not just one section of the population. A thought-provoking and genuine show, Turner embodies the potential that ‘different’ means.
Written by: Becks Turner
Directed by: Adam Gregory
Produced by: G&T Theatre
Melonade plays as part of VAULT Festival 2023 until 17 March. Further information and bookings can be found here.
You can read more about this show in our recent interview with Becks Turner here.