Up Down Girl
Adapted from Up Down Boy by Sue Shields
Directed by: Nathan Mudge and Michiel van Echten
Running at Circa Theatre until 1st May 2021
Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson
19-year-old Mattie (Lily Harper) is about to move out of home for the first time. Mum (Trudy Pearson) is taking her to college in just a few hours, but here’s the thing… Mattie hasn’t packed her bag yet! You know when you’re spring cleaning or moving and every item you own suddenly springs forth memories that take you back to a different time or special moment from your past? That’s happening to both Mattie and Mum as they attempt to bundle her life into a duffle bag, reminiscing all the way. Meanwhile through direct audience address, Mum shares her experience of raising a child with Down syndrome.
Mattie’s imagination is extraordinary, her memories vividly brought to life in Up Down Girl. A number of production elements help us see into her world. Firstly, her friends (the delightful Michiel van Echten and Mycah Keall) pop out of the wings to play police officers and doctors, evil grocery shoppers and hot Westlife singers. They also serve as backup dancers for the fabulous lip-sync numbers, which Harper nails with total star power. Then there’s Ian Harman’s bright, homely set and Isadora Lao’s colourful lighting design, which leans into Mattie’s every wonderful whim. Let’s not forget the old overhead projector that sets so many magical scenes.
From patient to cranky, loving to fierce, Pearson beautifully portrays all the nuances of a mother exhausted by prejudice. Harper’s performance is funny and sassy as all heck. The relationship between the two characters gives me tingles, accentuated by the chemistry and respect the two actors clearly share.
Up Down Girl is a feel-good play that leaves the audience grinning from ear to ear. At the same time, it is a poignant, triumphant tale of overcoming adversity (preferably while wearing a cape), embracing our differences, and the unique perspective that a person with Down syndrome can bring to the world.
Needless to say, it hit me right in the heart.