Plenty has already been written on this play, currently on at the Southwark Playhouse in which a non-verbal autistic child is portrayed by a puppet. There has been an outcry against it, a protest outside the theatre and a petition with more than 10,000 signatures asking for it to be withdrawn. Yet I’d like to add my perspective, for what it’s worth.
Many in the autistic community feel that protesting against the puppet has brought the community together. Personally, I feel it has alienated me. I haven’t seen the play, and am not likely to unless it tours in the North of England. Therefore, I feel unqualified to comment on the play itself. But I am disgusted by the level of abuse railed against it, some of it quite personal towards the writer, director and actors, from people who have not seen it. Why not try to see things from their perspective? OK, the choice of an ugly grey puppet was perhaps not the smartest. But I appreciate their reasons for not using a child or a live actor – the distressing subject matter and violent scenes. The writer has worked with autistic children for 10 years, and consulted some of us in the play’s writing. I accept he may have got some things wrong. Don’t we all? As someone pointed out on Twitter, “The carers’ views are entitled to be aired as well.”
I am aware that I am coming to this as a very privileged autistic person. I have always been able to work full-time in a field of my choice and special interests. My mental health has generally been good. I now have a happy marriage, friends and a supportive and loving family. I do not have a great deal of anger towards neurotypicals, mainly because, as an adult, they usually treat me well. This was not always the case; growing up, I was called names almost daily and spent most of my childhood without a single friend. If the bullying had gone on into adulthood, if I had not been able to get through university and into employment, or if I had autistic kids who were struggling, (I don’t have kids), I admit, I may feel quite differently about All in a Row, though I doubt that I would resort to personal bullying of the play’s staff. I don’t like there being an “Us” & “Them”, autistics vs NTs, autistics vs autism parents, etc. I truly believe it doesn’t have to be this way. We should be able to meet each other halfway, and protesting, without proper dialogue on both sides, is not the way forward. I shall be glad when all this has blown over.