Downs With Love is a frank, open conversation about the way we look at the capabilities, emotions and safeguarding of those with Down’s Syndrome; specifically, in the contexts of relationships. Abi Brydon plays a young woman named Beth. Beth is vivacious, independent and has intense happiness for life most of us would envy. Yet, she cannot even make a cup of tea without being asked: “Can you do that yourself?”
Her new support worker Tracy (Katy Milne) encourages Beth to venture outside more. Though fully capable of catering to her own day-to-day needs, Beth finds it challenging to engage in a world which has previously shown nothing but bullying and ridicule. On an outing to the pub, Beth makes a passing comment of a ‘special someone’ – a musician called Mark. She has a crush, yet so do Mark and Tracy. The two begin a relationship – hiding it from Beth – stating that while uncomfortable, it’s the best thing for her.
Following their successful Fringe run in 2017, Cutting Edge Theatre was awarded a People’s Project grant. This not only allowed for a touring production, but has also given then the opportunity of a wider audience and the chance to connect further with those living with learning disabilities. Suzanne Lofthus’s script is less designed to push the audience’s acceptance of Down’s and more concerned about questions of love, relationships and what we consider ‘acceptable’.
Brydon holds her own while onstage, with her performance given the respect deserving of a passionate performer. She captures the frustrations we all feel when we’re doubted, made to feel we aren’t capable of achieving anything. Working with writer and director Lofthus, she and Brydon base the character of Beth on many of Brydon’s own experiences growing up with Down’s Syndrome. Downs With Love documents the bullying, disappointments and fight to be acknowledged that Brydon herself has faced. Her closing monologue, which the entire production has been building towards, is a sublime, hard-hitting speech that encourages the audience to confront their own apprehensions around people like her.
Brydon wants to communicate her tires and frustrations with the odd glances and cruel words. More though, she addresses the issue of love and disability, an issue which causes unease in people. That there is no reason for her not to seek love and connection. One question she challenges us with is whether would we feel uncomfortable if someone with Down’s was to date someone without the condition? It’s a question Stephen Arthur’s character Mark has put to him, handling the subject in an admirable, if glossed over, manner.
Serving as the audience’s representative, so to speak, Milne and Arthur together offer natural and realistic individuals. Their decisions to not speak with Beth upfront, to pander to her emotions and frequently question Beth’s capabilities feel uncomfortably familiar. It’s an entirely human response to act overbearing when we don’t fully understand someone.
The choreography, while not entirely necessary, serves a clear theme of repetition and schedule. Scenes are dedicated to Beth’s insistence on routine; bathing, brushing her teeth, going to college, which all indicate a passage of time in the production. Gradually, the group movements evolve as Katie and Mark begin to grow closer, flirting and touching. Here movement plays a role, communicating the isolation Beth is reliving as the pair focus on themselves and not her.
Anyone with relatives or friends who have Down’s Syndrome will recognise the creativity in Downs With Love. A tremendous amount of feeling has been put into this production, in by Brydon herself more than anyone. It wears its heart on its sleeve, taking chances but refraining from pushing its audience too far into uneasiness. An emotional piece, Downs With Love rightfully deserves its funding to reach a wider audience.