There are plenty of very fine companies doing superb and necessary work with neuro-diverse young people, but the unique thing about Flute is the emphasis on Shakespeare. Hunter believes in the power of iambic pentameter to both soothe and stimulate, and that Shakespeare belongs to everyone. I can definitely go along with that.
A few years back I saw the company perform a version of The Tempest at the Orange Tree, a show that put the delight of play back into the play by utilising a series of games that effectively turns the audience cum participants into co-creators alongside the professional actors. The Tempest conjured an “isle full of noises” and it did it with real musicality, including that most delicious form of music: laughter. It also did a fine job of telling the story.
Flute Theatre's The Tempest (2016)
So too does the company’s latest piece, Pericles, which is being performed on Zoom over the next five weeks for one family at a time with a child or children on the autistic spectrum and their neuro-typical siblings. It’s essential work at a time when many such families are coping alone in isolation.
For anyone who doubts it, Pericles is a reminder that Shakespeare is still Shakespeare when you don’t have all the poetry or all the plot. Incest and brothels are glossed over in a family friendly version that has an emphasis on adventure, the sea, magic and the human voice. There are lovely sections with the fishermen, and then the necromancer Cerimon, who brings the dead Thaisa back to life.
Did I enjoy it as much as the live version of The Tempest which I saw in 2016? No, like all theatre that is either live-streamed or on Zoom, there is no substitute for actually being in the room. But Pericles makes many virtues out of the interactive possibilities of Zoom and it does it with enormous grace and with a real sense of fun and an eye to the fairy tale elements of the story. It’s amazing what actors can do with a few fairy lights in their bedrooms.
Still from Pericles.
It’s also very much the case that Zoom opens up access to those who even in a non-lockdown situation might find a visit to venue more than they can cope with. Talking recently with Ellie Griffiths, the artistic director of Oily Cart, a company that makes work with and for children who are not neuro-typical or have complex needs, she made the point that the tendency is to talk about theatre as being a fundamentally communal experience. But it’s not the whole story, and might even be an out-dated notion.
She said that sitting in rows in the dark with bright lights on stage doesn’t suit everyone. Companies such as Oily Cart and Flute make work that doesn’t try and mould its audiences to the art-form but which explores how the artform can be flexible enough to serve the needs of their particular audiences. In the process they often serve the needs of all the audience. Zoom potentially adds to that flexibility. As a reasonably (but not entirely) neurotypical person I might prefer my theatre in a live shared space, and find watching it on a screen quite difficult, but that may not be true for those who are autistic and have different needs to me.
At a moment when everything in theatre is up for grabs, it’s worth thinking about. Flute’s Pericles is a reminder how circumstance and technology can be tools to promote change and make us question who has access to Shakespeare and in what ways. For that reason alone, it’s crucial work, the bonus is that it is so very joyous too.
Pericles runs until Sat 18 Jul. You can book tickets here.
And you can browse all the online theatre available to watch in our Streamdoor guide.