This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub
Autism, when written about badly, can be a horribly trying experience. When written about well though, it can offer a powerfully fresh perspective on life. The Bula Loop, Tom Page’s brief portrait of a close family coping with the autism of their youngest son, happily falls into the second category. It’s not exactly a stunning piece of theatre, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is modest, well-constructed, and even quite funny at times.
Page himself plays Adam, a gangly teenager suffering from fairly severe autism. Deborah Clair is his hard-working mum, John Knowles his bread-winning Dad, and George Tomsett his older brother, Oscar, about to fly the nest. Grace Collett makes up the ensemble as Bryony, the family’s young neighbour and friend – possibly girlfriend – of Oscar. Page presents a few scenes of family life, with the action jumping between the busy dining room and Adam’s map-filled bedroom.
Page’s dialogue is a little wooden and contrived at times, with the regular family rows seemingly popping up out of nowhere, but he has actually laced together a notably strong network of characters, desires and responsibilities. Everyone is stressed about something, everyone is annoyed about something, and everyone wants something (or someone), and Page’s careful balancing of these competing factors creates one or two instances of genuinely absorbing and commendably understated drama. With stronger dialogue, The Bula Loop could turn into something relatively profound.
There are some decent performances here too. Collett’s Bryony and Tomsett’s Oscar lack authenticity, but Clair is adept as the wearied mother, always clattering between the dining table and the off-stage kitchen, and Knowles is believable – and sometimes amusing – as the gruff patriarch, perhaps on the cusp of a mid-life crisis. And Page never overdoes it as the autistic Adam, sensitively capturing his awkwardness, his anger and his anxiety, but letting his affection peep out on occasion.