It’s not so long ago that people who different from the norm were shut away in institutions, loosely dubbed as hospitals, and treated as nothing more than an inconvenience by the staff. Such was the case with the fearsome Lennox Castle outside Glasgow, which first opened in the 1930s. Despite patients being found to be sorely neglected in the 1980s, it took until the 1990s before Lennox Castle was finally closed down. Castle Lennox, then, may or may not have been modelled on this institution, but it certainly as a tribute to those who languished in such places.

Linda McLean’s script tells the story of Annis (Emma McCaffrey), a 17 year old autistic girl who is dropped off at Castle Lennox one day by her stepmother for a ‘holiday’. Annis’ initial entrancement with the castle in a forest quickly turns sour as she counts pine tree after pine tree after pine tree. The holiday stretches on as Annis struggles to come to terms with the regimented routine, her sparky personality an affront to the institution’s staff who seek docile obedience from their wards.

McLean’s script verges on poetry, assisted by Michael John McCarthy’s deliciously wistful songs. Karen Tennent’s artful stage design initially presents the castle with a wrought iron gate straight out of Sleeping Beauty before the grimly insipid reality emerges in the cold light of day. Calum Paterson’s sinister soundscape cements the eerie spell woven by this far from fairy-tale castle.

Director Maria Oller and movement director Janice Parker have great fun with their extensive cast, creating such a colourful slipstream of movement that it’s hard to give BSL interpreter Rachel Amey, the attention she deserves. McCaffrey is nothing short of brilliant. Engaging, spirited, and defiant in the face of the institution’s attempt to shrink her to something smaller than she is. Gavin Yule is a charming love interest and makes easy work of the songs with a lovely vocal tone. Kevin Lennon is despicably smug as the supercilious doctor, a chilling vision of the establishment’s determination that they were (and are) right. And Kirsty Eila McIntyre is a much-needed dose of sunshine amidst the soulless spikiness.

But it’s the Lung Ha company who are collectively the stars. Ebullient and full of character, the ensemble songs are delightful, whether celebrating cake or bemoaning the cheese-less macaroni.  There’s something initially chilling, then downright confronting about seeing people with learning disabilities confined, for all intents and purposes, in a cage.

Soaring above the moral question raised by the existence of such institutions, McLean’s tale works both as a love song to friendship and a battle cry hurled at the people who continue to make judgements that keep so many people effectively locked out of our society. The audience’s standing ovation at the end is tribute to the importance of bringing stories like these to the stage.