By Alice Newport
Autism and the treatment of children can often be touchy subjects. Over the years, children have been mistreated, diagnosed incorrectly, or not diagnosed at all. Based on an article published in ‘Scientific America’ in 1959 by one Doctor Bettelheim, ‘Joey: The Mechanical Boy’ follows the journey of the 9-year-old titular character, who is whisked away to some kind of medical facility to be studied and to receive ‘treatment’.
The stage is divided into three distinct areas; a chest of drawers with a table and chair, a stage made of books, and Joey’s room. As the work progresses, each location becomes the centre of attention. The play explores relationships, loneliness, psychology, imagination, vanity, exploitation and ego. We are privy to Joey’s behaviour and rituals, his mother’s memories and Doctor Bettleheim’s driven nature.
Philip Miolin was brilliant as Joey. His ability to embody childlike mannerisms and movements made his character so believable, and as he moved around the stage he drew one’s attention to the way the play used movement to differentiate between characters and their moods.
Margi Brown Ash won my heart as the storyteller for the evening. Her ability to switch between sad and lost, and egotistical and arrogant was perfect. As Joey’s mother she was candid, almost guilty, whereas when she played the doctor she moved with an incredible gusto and sense of ownership. So convincing was her acting, that the second she came on stage as Bettleheim I hated her, and was angry for things that had yet to be told.
‘Joey’ is designed to make you emotional, and the costumes added much to this. Margi’s transition between the mother and the doctor was the simple, but genius, matter of a change in voice, with the addition of a jacket and clown nose. Miolin, as the faceless Joey covered in tape, made me feel isolated.
This eloquent, brilliant performance is not for those who are uncomfortable with getting emotional (I cried for almost its entirety). Joey’s sadness is heartbreaking, and the journey he and his mother go on represents what many people in similar circumstances must endure.
‘Joey: The Mechanical Boy’ is a story of someone who got lost and found their own way to cope, and is a must see to conclude the Blue Room’s August-November season.
‘Joey: the Mechanical Boy’ runs until Saturday November 22 at the Blue Room.
Images by Leigh Brennan.
You can follow Alice on Twitter at @alicemod