Echolalia | Edinburgh Fringe 2014

Also known as echologia or echophrasia, echolalia is the automatic repetition of vocalizations made by another person.

That makes sense in context of Jen McArthur’s solo clown piece of the same name that addresses, with much humour and a lightness of touch, high functioning autism as experienced by a young woman preparing for a job interview.

Repetition is the key. But sometimes repetition can get monotonous. And sometimes it is necessary. Like saying hello to your pals every morning. Calling the recruitment agency for a possible job and then pretending the line is bad, only so you can call again. Making coffee. Dusting. It is these mundane activities that keep the world together in dedicated, recognisable beats.

Of course counting and lists always help. McArthur knows this. Having worked with children who experience autism her work is inspired by the unique responses to everyday situations, the challenges of what is perceived as ordinary and the daunting social conventions that one is expected to conform to in order to be considered as normal.

Shoes go missing, cookies are crumbled, audience members are ticked with a feather duster and probing personal questions are raised without any regard for politeness or social niceties. And amidst it all there are a couple of exquisite moments that are genuinely heart-breaking.

McArthur’s physicality is strong and her stage presence cannot be faulted – the script itself still feels like it needs slight tweaking. The premise, while appearing to be simple, is enormous: the challenges of stepping outside into a world of constant and often biased judgement. Yet at times it feels that rather than peeling away the layers, the work gets caught up in the various conversations with ourselves and their self-generating facades. It is these that seem to construct the play rather than the actual unstable nexus of the person’s thinking and behaviour.

Occasionally Echolalia lags and the energy drops (a natural phenomenon for those who have experienced of familiar with autism) yet that particular aspect is not cradled enough to make a distinct impression.

Nevertheless this is a very strong work and an important contribution to contemporary clowning and physical theatre – and also the conversation about autism.


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