Myrtle Theatre Company’s Up Down Man, playing at Tobacco Factory Theatres until November 18, is the sequel to Up Down Boy, which I understand was rather fabulous. It works very well, though, as a stand-alone piece, with enough back story given for those of us coming across Matty Butler and his family for the first time not to feel disadvantaged.
All parents struggle at times to find the right balance – always wanting to shield their children from the harsh realities of life, while at the same time needing to prepare them for eventual independence. We often find ourselves questioning our choices. That struggle, and those questions, must be even harder if your child has a learning disability.
Matty Butler isn’t a child, though. He’s 29 years old. A big man who likes foxes, badgers, dancing, eating dinner, going bowling, EastEnders, dancing and foxes. Throughout the show it’s often his toy fox who speaks on Matty’s behalf – he makes it very clear that he is Matty’s favourite. As soft toys go, he’s very eloquent – and a talented musician too.
We meet Matty, his father, and one of his sisters (he has three and two brothers) a few weeks after his mother has died from a heart attack. She’s very much in the room too and, just like the rest of them, is finding it hard to adjust. They’re all asking questions, all wondering whether decisions made in the past were the right ones. Matty’s question is whether they can still have a party for his parents’ ruby wedding anniversary; he wants “friends, family, together”.
Nathan Bessell, who plays Matty, is all kinds of fabulous. His mother, Sue Shields, wrote Up Down Boy, and he’s influenced the story as writer and director Brendan Murray now moves it forward. He is a talented dancer, and a less talented singer.
I appreciate a play that makes me think and I’m not averse to having a good old cry at the theatre. Up Down Man made me do both. In fact, when Heather Williams as Matty’s mum compares her and him to lichen, a composite organism made up of algae and fungi, neither of which can survive without the other, I may have sobbed out loud.
I think tickets might be thin on the ground, but I can’t recommend highly enough that you try to get one – Up Down Man is a beautiful 70 minutes.
Up Down Man continues at Tobacco Factory Theatres until Saturday, November 18. For more info and to book tickets, visit www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/up-down-man
Read more: Review: The Tin Drum, Bristol Old Vic