“Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”
There are many benefits to being a student these days. One of those benefits includes having discounted access to some of the best theatre plays touring Britain at present.
I have had the pleasure of seeing many of these productions since I was around twelve years old, starting with nail-biter The Woman in Black, and working my way up to the more complex productions, like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet.
All fantastic plays, and a great value for money.
But some of the greatest plays, I think, are the ones which not only rake in younger viewers, but challenge the perception of mental disabilities amongst younger people.
Take both adaptations, firstly Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’, and then John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’.
The plays both feature a protagonist with a profound mental disability (Christopher Boone and Lennie Small, respectively), and the emotionally distressing scenes in both are enough to bring the viewer to tears, and to challenge the way in which they view the treatment of those with such impairments.
Mental disability seems to remain a difficult topic in the classroom. In fact, names of disorders seem to be turning into adjectives of sorts nowadays.
As a student myself, I remain passionate about the treatment of mental disability – say anything offensive, and you’ll have me snapping at you for the weeks to follow. Be warned.
When I received tickets for The Curious Incident last Christmas, I was impatient to get to the theatre in August. It was too far away!
After reading the novel, I knew right away that I was going to love the play. It follows young Christopher Boone, a teenage boy with Asperger’s syndrome (on the opposite end of the spectrum to Autism), giving an amazing insight into the mind of an individual’s daily life with the disorder.
Christopher struggles not only with communication, but with the passive attitude of many to his needs and approach to complex issues (like knowing every prime number up to 7,507).
Watching such scenes, including one where Christopher cowers from his mother’s fiancée in fear after being roared at for ignoring his attempts to communicate, not only left me almost hysterical in the middle of the theatre, but also sparked thoughts that perhaps, young people do not realise the damaging impact of their words.
In Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’, we saw Irish actor Chris O’ Dowd’s spectacular performance as Lennie Small. Lennie, despite his name, towers over his best friend George. He is a hard-working farmhand, and his strength is something to be admired by all. However, he shows certain characteristics of an individual with autism or severe learning difficulties.
The humiliating and degrading treatment he receives from others left me, again, in tears in the cinema, but this time, I was not the only one. I saw other young people, who had probably studied the text at school, sobbing at the cruelty and inequality Lennie faces, not to mention his harrowing fate.
This may not be considered a pressing student based topic, but I do believe that it can still be raised in the student environment.
The inequality faced by those with mental impairments or disabilities seems to be ever-present nowadays. Sometimes I wish that more people could understand the beauty of knowing people with such conditions, not to mention how well they are portrayed in the theatre.
Therefore, the aim of my discussion is not to reprimand or to accuse anyone, but to try to help open the mind. Watch the plays. Read the texts. Understand the needs of the individuals. Appreciate the beauty of the acting, and the strong emotions they evoke within you.
You never know. You might just end up being the person that changes the perspective and portrayal of mental disability forever.