Saturday, 28 September 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Five Years - Theatre Deli, Sheffield.


Five Years is a thought-provoking one-man show, which breaks down stereotypical boundaries. Set between 1998-2002, the five years that Neal Pike attended Foxwood, a 'Special-Needs School' (even I hate those words....just because someone is different or has a disability, does not make their needs “special”, just “different” to the average Joe Bloggs), where he describes being “put into a box” and being told he couldn’t do certain things just because he’s different.

Being a teenager is tough enough already, but for Pike, growing up with Dyspraxia and a stammer, he refused to be stereotyped from all angles, given that only 5% of people with disabilities end up in long term employment, he wanted to challenge that and prove people wrong. Pike said: “Being told you can’t do something because you’re special and you will be forever known as special always stuck with me.

Pike states: “I wrote this show and am touring it because I want to show people that it’s possible to do things when everyone defines you as having disabilities can forever dampen your expectations”. Ironically the last two touring shows I’ve been to (“Malory Towers” and “War Horse”) have both featured cast members with disabilities, which, as a disabled person myself, is something that is long overdue in this day and age. It’s so utterly refreshing to see people being recognised for their talents, and not as the condition/restrictions they were born with.

Pike starts off by saying how he’s always been a bit of a bookworm - “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” was the first book he read. It’s kind of ironic because I can actually see a resemblance to the young wizard myself - and so could his classmates as it was just one of the nicknames given to him during his time at Foxwood. He clearly has a love/hate relationship with the school - he was bullied, for his stammer and his tall and super-skinny figure, told by teachers he’d not succeed in life yet at the same time he is grateful for his time spent there as it’s made him who is is today.

Pike takes us through his highs and lows of his time at Foxwood, a school that although it’s different from most schools, in some ways it is very similar to “normal” schools. Pike's attitude towards others' negativity regarding his disabilities and life expectations is him quite literally poking to fingers in the air at them. There’s an instant likability about Pike - and from the many laughs from the audience as he takes us through his adolescent years, it’s obvious that everyone can see a bit of themselves in him.

Whilst the adverts for this production show Pike with a collection of memorabilia, no props were used in the fifty minute performance. I felt that it would have benefited from a rear projection screen with possibly old photos of Pike’s school memories etc. I personally would have loved to have had subtitles on a screen too, as at times I did struggle or completely miss what was being said. Whilst the advert warns of references to bullying to sexual abuse, I didn’t hear some of these issues discussed due to not being able to understand what was being said. This didn’t stop me enjoying the rest of the show though but it might be an issue for some. Also worth noting is that this touring production also includes a BSL (British Sign Language) interpreter at each performance.

Five Years is touring across various UK venues (for info see www.nealpikeprojects.co.uk). Whilst this is the first time I’ve seen Neal Pike perform, hopefully it won’t be my last.

Reviewer - Lottie Davis-Browne
on - 27/9/19

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