“Me and foxes have one thing in common. People think we’re cute or they want us to go away.”
Those are the words of Mr Fox, the cuddly toy and imaginary friend who speaks for Matty Butler.
But Matty isn’t a child. Matty is a 29-year-old who has Down’s Syndrome.
Matty communicates mainly through movement and him dancing to Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On is how Up Down Man, currently playing at Tobacco Factory Theatres, opens.
The sequel to Up Down Boy, which features the same character as a child, revolves around how Matty and his family deal with the death of his mother, Odette.
While Matty, played superbly by Nathan Bessell, still exhibits child-like qualities (“I like foxes, badgers, dancing, eating dinner, bowling, EastEnders, dancing and foxes”), he’s a grown up and he wants a boyfriend.
With his son spending most of his time in his bedroom with his headphones on, listening to Celine and pretending to be on the Titanic, Matty’s dad, played by Joe Hall, isn’t coping well. It’s pizza for dinner every day and dirty clothes are piling up because he can’t work the washing machine.
“Fear is the real disability”, he says to his daughter Darcy, played by Emily Bowker, when she pops round with a shepherd’s pie.
Darcy is coping better but, like her father, she can’t bring herself to say ‘dead’ when talking about her mum.
Upstairs though, Matty is coping. Comforted by Mr Fox, he has assembled some of Odette’s favourite things plus the urn of her ashes. He also wants to have a party to celebrate his parent’s 40th wedding anniversary.
Odette meanwhile, performed exquisitely by Heather Williams, is there in the form of her ghost with quips on her husband’s lack of domestic aptitude and regrets that she didn’t let Matty get out into the big wide world and have more freedom.
I’m not afraid to admit it but I had tears in my eyes during much of this fantastic 70 minute show.
It’s laugh out loud funny and heart breakingly sad all the same time, both of which will leave your eyes watery!
It teaches us so much about family, grief and disability. The central question is what happens when someone with Down’s Syndrome outlives their primary carers?
We flick between Matty’s imagination, helped by the dry whit of Arran Glass’ excellent guitar playing Mr Fox, and the reality of a family dealing with a major upheaval in their lives.
The best theatre entertains but it also makes you think. Up Down Man does that in spades and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Five out of five from Lifestyle District.
Up Down Man runs at Tobacco Factory Theatres until 18 November.
Images by Richard Davenport