Lewis Bray’s depiction of the life of his Autistic brother, Jack, and the impact his learning difficulty and the bureaucracy involved in maintaining his level of support has on his family as a whole, is not on the face it the food for the most warm of plays. Yet what he has managed with Cartoonopolis which is running at The Liverpool Playhouse Studio until February 14th – is quite possibly one of the most inspirational, moving, thought provoking and downright funny plays to have been put on in this city in the past twelve months and is testament to the author / actor and his ability to portray something so deeply personal without resorting to sentimentality.
Jack, as a means of communicating and coping with the real world, has created a realm at the bottom of his Wirral garden – Cartoonopolis – which is inhabited by all of his favourite cartoon characters and of which he is the convivial mayor. Of course, where conviviality lingers, so does somebody keen to muscle in and it is his nemesis, Sharp, with whom Jack has to deal on a daily basis so as to maintain a balance in his world and that which exists beyond the borders of his own making.
What Bray does, through sheer enthusiasm, gusto, quick witted ability and passion for the story he has written – ostensibly Jack’s story, but also that of his mother, Bev, father, Nige, and bray’s own – so as to illustrate that life is impacted upon by those who have, genuinely, little clue what that life might be like without experiencing it.
It is a story that might teeter out of control were it not for its own inherent charm and some superb direction from Matt Rutter and Chris Tomlinson, who have drawn lines in the sand as to where the perils of falling away from being a play might lie. The play was first staged during the Everyword Festival last year and has since been extended to a full 90 minutes from the original 45, but it is barely noticeable as Bray is sparkling orb of optimism that is as infectious as it impossible to take ones eyes from.
Special mention too should be attributed to Katy Haynes and the lighting and sound effects she has created for Cartoonopolis which add an extra dimension to proceedings, like it is necessary, and so makes the play as a whole a huge Must See that says so much more about learning difficulties, those who have them and those who care for those who have them than a million pontificating, political speeches ever will.
The Liverpool Playhouse Studio
February 5 – February 14
Author: Lewis Bray
Directors: Matt Rutter & Chris Tomlinson
Producer: Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse
Cast: Lewis Bray.
Running Time: 1 hr 50 mins