We Live By the Sea
We Live By the Sea
by Patch of Blue
59E59 Theatres New York, Arts Theatre West End, SoHo Playhouse New York, Adelaide Festival Australia, China National Tour, Greenwich Theatre, Pleasance Edinburgh
Director & Lead Deviser
August 2016-June 2018
Cast: Alex Brain, Tom Coliandris, Alexandra Simonet, Lizzie Grace
Musicians: Julianna Zachariou, Josh Flowers
Composers: Ellie and Imogen Mason
Lighting Design: Rachel Sampley and Wil Monks
Video Design: Wil Monks
Videographer: Amelia Wall
Images: scarab pictures, Kate Pardey, Alex Howarth
WINNER- Best Theatre, Critics Choice and Peace Foundation Awards- Adelaide Festival
NOMINATED- The Fringe First, Off West End Awards for Best Production and Best Ensemble
New York Times: Critic's Pick
The Guardian: Top 5 Shows at Adelaide Festival
★★★★★ - The British Theatre Guide
★★★★★ - A Younger Theatre
★★★★★ - Scottish Arts and Culture
★★★★★ - The Adelaide Advertiser
★★★★★ - The Sunday Mail
★★★★★ - Adelaide Theatre Guide
★★★★★ - Fritz Magazine
★★★★★ - All Over Adelaide
★★★★★- The Front Row Center
★★★★ - The Scotsman
★★★★ - Natasha Tripney, The Stage
★★★★ - The List
★★★★ - Fest
★★★★ - Edinburgh Guide
★★★★ - The Reviews Hub
★★★★ - Kryztoff Magazine
The New York Times, 19/4/18
Young Katy can summon a huge band at the tip of her fingers: mandolin, piano, strings, horns — they all join in, one after the other, and make a catchy racket. And yet there are only two musicians by her side, deftly triggering loops and samples. That is one of the many beauties of “We Live by the Sea”: It creates an expansive world out of seemingly little.
Devised by the London-based company Patch of Blue, this small gem of a play introduces us to an unconventional, loving family consisting of two teenage sisters and (maybe) a dog in a beach town. At just 18, Hannah (Alexandra Simonet) has had to drop out of school to look after 15-year-old Katy (Alexandra Brain), who is on the autism spectrum. We learn their mother decamped after learning of the diagnosis, and dad died a year earlier. Now it’s just the girls and Katy’s imaginary emotional-support best friend, Paul Williams (Lizzie Grace), a “Jack Russell slash St. Bernard.” Katy and Paul Williams are such an indivisible unit, they say “we” instead of “I” and communicate in their own language.
The show (a hit at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and now at 59E59 Theaters after a weeklong run at SoHo Playhouse in 2016) toggles between two perspectives. Sometimes we see the world through Katy, and sometimes we get an outsider look at the sisters via their new neighbor, Ryan (Tom Coliandris), a gentle 18-year-old who just moved from London. As with all of the key background details, the reason is organically revealed over the course of the show.
The tricky part, of course, is to let us share the way Katy experiences life, and Ms. Brain is crucial here. Her warmly empathetic performance never feels “acty,” even when Katy freaks out and lets out shrieks that are equal parts bloodcurdling and heartbreaking. (The other cast members are just as good in relatively more straightforward roles.)
The director, Alex Howarth, does not have the means of the Broadway hit “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” about the sleuthing adventures of an autistic boy. But he did come up with a tight, imaginative staging, doing wonders, for instance, with simple projections of home-movie-like footage on a triangular sail. (Will Monks did the video design.) The Mason Brothers’ score, performed live by Josh Flowers and Julianna Zachariou, also helps us understand Katy’s rapidly changing moods — her meltdowns are accompanied by a screechy cacophony, for instance.
“We Live by the Sea” is concerned with how these extraordinary circumstances can be so ordinary: how the calm, weary Hannah and Katy, who is simultaneously very literal and very imaginative, go on about their routine-driven life, and how Ryan shakes them up.
Throughout, the company maintains a sure sense of tone, playful and grave at the same time, and pulls off a cathartic ending that’s neither cloying nor cheesy — though be warned that it is a five-hankie tear-jerker that may leave you a sobbing mess just as the house lights come back on.
The Guardian, 9/3/17
Top 5 Shows To See at Adelaide Festival
I was sent to this production by the glowing review of a critic friend: “This is exactly what theatre should be.” As you enter the tent, 15-year-old Katy (Alex Brain) asks if she could please tap your shoes. For Katy – who lives with her sister Hannah (Alex Simonet) and her imaginary dog Paul Williams (Lizzie Grace) – the shoe-tapping is a way of greeting people and the beginning of your hour-long journey into the world of autism: not only what it’s like to live with, but what it’s like to fall in love with.
Young theatre company Patch of Blue worked with the National Autistic Society for this work, which is by turns playful, funny and deeply moving. Through a live score and innovative set-pieces, they build whole worlds by the sea where the two teenagers live alone after the death of their father, before a new boy Ryan (Tom Coliandris) moves to town. The show had sellout seasons in Edinburgh, New York and London – but there are remarkably still tickets available for the Adelaide run. Bring tissues.
The Manhattan Digest
59E59 Theaters’ latest Brits Off Broadway offering brings We Live By The Sea to the colonies, after sold out runs at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Beijing, and the Arts Theatre, London West End.
Upon entering the little black box theater, misty vapors swirl amidst the hues of light and sweet live vocals fill the ears. One of two girls crouched in the doorway cheerfully asks permission to tap the tops of each of our shoes in greeting as we walk in, tap tap tap, tap tap tap. Two singers, two actors, and other sundry items are strewn across the stage. A sail is stretched across the space, and naked light bulbs hang from naked wires.
The play begins as Katy (Alexandra Brain), an autistic 15-year old girl, narrates a piece of music to its glorious finish, introducing the parts as they unfold; we see videos of her and of the sea projected upon the sail behind her. It is a wonderful and engaging opening. Katy then proceeds to introduce herself, her 18-year old sister Hannah (Alexandra Simonet), her imaginary dog Paul Williams (Lizzie Grace) and the story that’s about to be told, as well as the story within the story, about a King, a Princess Knight and dragons. Shortly thereafter a new neighbor, one 18-year old Ryan (Tom Coliandris), stops in for a visit, and their lives are irrevocably changed.
Musicians Josh Flowers and Julianna Zachariou weave the music of The Mason Brothers and others perfectly throughout this piece. Alexandra Simonet brings a subtle, emotional and empathetic performance as Hannah. Lizzie Grace’s performance as Paul Williams is fresh, funny and adorable. Bright-eyed Tom Coliandris as Ryan is earnest, yearning and sincere. Alexandra Brain shines as Katy; her performance is funny, touching, and inventive, her frenetic depiction of an autistic youth always remaining three-dimensional. All are skillfully directed and staged by Alex Howarth, who uses the small space expertly to tell this tale.
All told, We Live By The Sea is a gorgeous, moving story about loss and personal triumph. From start to finish, every little touch in this production is well conceived, from the effective and imaginative set all the way down to the postcard from Katy in the program. “The King said to the Princess Knight that even the biggest dragons can be slain if you have someone fighting with you.”
The Front Row Centre
An audience enters a theater under an implicit contract. For an hour or two we will forget where we actually are and, in return, the actors on stage will transport us somewhere fantastic. The Patch of Blue theater company, as part of the Brits Off Broadway festival at 59E59, manipulates that bargain in We Live By the Sea, a captivating examination of an autistic girl’s struggles. Yes, we are transported, but rather than forgetting we are sitting in a theater, we are instead transformed into make-believe characters. Starting with the moment we enter from the lobby and Katy (Alexandra Brain) asks to touch each of us to confirm, in her mind, that we are there, it is clear that this is Katy’s world and we exist only because she needs to tell a story. Never have I felt so imaginary.
The tale that Katy tells is by turns fanciful and brutal. A 15-year-old orphan taken care of by her infinitely patient 18-year-old sister, Hannah (Alexandra Simonet), she is capable, though just barely, of attending a mainstream school and withstanding the abusive taunts of her classmates. Her best friend is an imaginary dog named Paul Williams (Lizzie Grace) and her playtime hours are occupied with rich fantasies where desk lamps become warrior princesses and a fishless fish tank brings the ocean to her bedroom. When a handsome boy enters the mix, another basic contract of drama is put to the test. It’s universally understood that the role of a good looking guy is to woo the older sister and make nice with the troublesome younger sister in order to gain favor. But this is not the case with Ryan (Tom Coliandris). He has come to their town to forget a tragedy and wants nothing more than to escape to Katy’s playland, a place much safer than his own tormented mind. Hannah just can’t catch a break.
Oceans are notoriously vast, which is a good thing because the sea is called upon here to support enormous metaphorical weight including, but not limited to, expressions of life, death, rebirth, lost love, lost parents and redemptive magic. At its symbolic peak, Katy reports that, “The biggest wave that the world had ever seen started getting taller and louder and coming right towards me and I could not do breathing or feel thinking in my head. It was so high now and my heart was going so hard it felt like all of me was beating. And it was the most magnificent I have ever felt.”
Still, we buy into the conceit, thanks to strong acting all around and the wonderfully immersive world built by director Alex Howarth and his creative team. Ms. Brain is nothing less than ferocious (And is there more apt a name for an actor locked so deeply inside her own interior monologue.). With fingers that never stop twitching unless she is violently pounding her chest, she is constantly in busy-minded motion, at play, lost in fantasy, or jolting to the stimulus of being touched. Ms. Grace provides humor, Ms. Simonet supplies sympathy and Mr. Coliandris offers compassion in supporting roles that bring balance to this work that was “devised” by a group of actor/writers rather than written by a sole playwright. Mr. Howarth gives us a galaxy seen through the autistic mind, full of haze and disjointed focus. Video on a sail-shaped screen takes Katy onto the water. Sometimes sweet music lingers in from two on-stage musicians, other times jarring noises disrupt the action. And because the audience is seated inside of Katy’s psyche, her imaginary dog constantly trots out into the house, demanding our attention from the center aisle, advising us to heed her master’s voice.
The British Theatre Guide, 28/08/16
We Live by the Sea is Katie’s story: a story about her imaginary dog Paul Williams, her big sister and her new best friend Ryan. It documents her summer holiday adventures and her big presentation to her classmates when she returns to school. It's feelgood and funny, honest and above all completely believable.
Katie doesn't like to be touched, she doesn't like too much noise, she likes to stick to her routine and takes things literally. Katie has autism but that doesn't stop her sharing her story, it spurs her on.
Alex Brain’s performance in the central role is mesmerising as she balances humour and frustration, breaking the fourth wall to chat to the audience whilst committing completely to the scenes within her story.
She is ably supported by Alexandra Simonet, Lizzie Grace and Lloyd Bagley who skilfully represent her important relationships. Simonet’s quiet fear and pride underscores Brain’s exuberance and her moments of vulnerability are particularly moving. It would, however, have been pleasing to know a little more of Ryan's backstory.
The inclusion of live music adds to the rising and falling emotions and swells the noise in Katie’s head. When she describes her "big wave", the stage is awash with music, emotion and discrete but powerful projections. Although the Attic is a cramped performance space, this makes the performance feel all the more special as it unfolds with the audience almost as part of the action.
We Live by the Sea is an outstanding piece of theatre with a big heart and carefully honed performances. I cried freely throughout as did the rest of the audience. It's rare for theatre to connect in such a way and Patch of Blue has created something very raw and beautiful.
A Younger Theatre 24/08/16
It felt like the softest of hands had reached out, intertwined its fingers with mine, and squeezed as if to say: we get it.
Patch of Blue theatre, alongside the National Autistic Society, are taking the path less-trodden. Using the sensory potential of theatre, a platform is given to girls with autism in this spine-tingling tale of finding connection where you least expect it. As a sister to an autistic brother, I hold my breath when a yellow-coated girl and canine-like companion bounce into the queuing crowd to ask if they can tap my shoes. Then within the intimacy of the Attic, taking in the projected seaside backdrops, multi-coloured lights, and euphorically soaring live music, this frozen breath seeps out in relief. They’d got it right.
We Live by the Sea is Katy’s story. Directed by Alex Howarth, this collectively devised production gives an innovative glimpse into Katy’s obsessive routines, literalism, and love for the colour purple as she navigates the overwhelming world around her, told through her blossoming friendship with a boy named Ryan.
The modestly masterful storytelling is warmly delivered by intelligent performances. Beating loudly at its heart, Alex Brain – playing Katy – is breath-taking. It is rare to see such an enchanting example of autism depicted so sensitively.
Orbiting around Katy, each character dips a toe in her world – providing a complete and honest picture of her life. We even hear the thoughts of Paul Williams, Katy’s best friend and imaginary dog, ingeniously brought to life by Lizzie Grace. This loyal partnership makes the joy which Katy finds in the kindness of Ryan – played by the charming Lloyd Bagley – even more endearing. With a smile that could heal a thousand hearts, he breaks down Katy’s barriers, fascinated by her remarkable honesty which mends his fractured, though brushed-over, backstory.
Providing the shade to Katy’s light is her sister, Hannah. Though worn from the difficulties of Katy’s condition, and left parentless by the seaside, Hannah exhibits an inspirational endurance in fighting for her sister’s cause. Alex Simonet subtly executes this complexity, moving with the uncertainty of both their futures.
The success of this production lies in spotting the difficult experience of autism echoing through the creases of its comforting fingers. Sea-deep and honestly-interpreted research renders We Live by the Sea an informative and special immersion into the lives of those shaped by autism.
Patch of Blue have created an uplifting wave, leaving behind beaming smiles, streaming tears, and a poignant message of the connections we can make when we use a ‘different kind of thinking’. This is my Fringe gem, a treasure that I will bury in the burning cockles of my heart.
Adelaide Theatre Guide (Australia), 17/02/17
Every once in a while a piece of theatre comes along which makes me remember why I have always loved the power of theatre and how beautiful it is when a story is so well crafted and presented that it can completely envelop an audience and mesmerise with its emotive message. “We Live by Sea” does just that. At the Edinburgh Festival it was nominated for a Fringe First and sold out the complete run. Little wonder.
The play deals with the difficult subject of autism and takes us inside the world of a beautiful autistic girl, Katy; an imaginary dog, Paul Williams; Hannah, her sister and carer; and Ryan, a newcomer to the seaside town who has his own demons to deal with. This is a sensitively written play about the often misunderstood mind of an autistic person and it is mesmerising. “We Live by the Sea” is an outstanding piece of theatre, engaging, inventive, raw and truly beautiful. The audience is taken on a journey of understanding and we are invited to enter the world of Katy. Her performance is heart-wrenching and sincere, highlighting the importance of ‘having someone in your corner’ because when you do, you can solve any problem. ‘Even the biggest dragons can be slain if you have someone with you.’The extremely talented musicians play an integral role in the unfolding of the story as does the sea and the repeated references to it.
I urge anyone who loves theatre to see this production as it reinforces the role this art form can play in developing understanding of anything we find hard to accept, often because of lack of exposure and awareness.
Amazing, wonderful, a definite must-see.
David Pollock- The Scotsman 24/08/16
"Even the biggest dragons can be slain if you have someone fighting with you." It's a twee motto, but it perfectly encapsulates this wonderful play about the power of human reliance upon one another by young company Patch of Blue. Developed in association with the National Autistic Society and Greenwich Theatre, it tells of a teenager called Katy whose autism causes her to live with one foot in the real world and one in a reality of her own devising. For her, life is creating fairy stories and best friendship with her imaginary pet dog Paul Williams, who appears to manifest as a young woman her own age.
The only person left to care for Katy is her sister Hannah. Into their world comes Ryan, a teenage vlogger with a sense of youthful altruism and a recent tragedy of his own which he needs to find a way through. His presence is reassuring for both young women, but confusing as well; for Hannah, who mistakes her need for company and support with a desire for a relationship, and for the innocent Katy, who gives the sense she might easily be broken if disappointed.
One of the most refreshing points about the piece is that it searches for something more than simple cliche; refusing to allow Hannah to resent Katy, or to let Ryan be a selfish male other rather than someone genuinely caring. There is humour in Katy's relationship with Paul, sadness in her recollections of running the gauntlet of bullying at school, and a sense of raw ingenuity to the live score, composed by Wovoka Gentle. It's a refreshingly strong piece of work for such a young company, and Katy's eventual public revelation of her own being has been built with such skill by director Alex Howarth that the audience gladly fills in the applause of her classmates.
Natasha Tripney- The Stage 26/08/16
Katy likes to touch people’s shoes. She likes the sea. She does not like crowds or loud noises. She does not like anyone to touch her.
Produced in conjunction with the National Autistic Society, We Live by the Sea is an inventive and well-judged piece that invites its audience to experience the world through the eyes of a 15-year-old autistic girl.
Following the death of their dad, Katy lives with her sister in a small coastal town. Katy’s best friend is an imaginary dog called Paul Williams, who is played by Lizzie Grace. Paul helps Katy cope with the world, and his presence allows us to better understand Katy’s thought processes – this is most potent in a scene in which Katy and her sister are in the car. Katy becomes increasingly upset, and, while we understand the source of her distress, we also see how exasperating, and at times dangerous, her behaviour can be to those around her.
It feels like everything has been very carefully considered. Alex Howarth’s production is so light and tight that you can forgive it the occasional sidestep into fairy-lit whimsy. Katy remains Katy throughout, and the production is always clear about that – there are no easy answers or magic cures. The standard of performance is high all-round, but Alex Brain’s performance as Katy is incredible, sustained, rich and funny, her timing exact. Informative without being worthy, this a really appealing piece. Lovely stuff.
The Upcoming- 29/7/2017
Patch of Blue’s disarming play draws us into the world of Katy, an autistic 15 year old. It’s a disorienting one, in which everyday noises can become a terrifying cacophony, facial expressions are indecipherable code and people say things that don’t make sense. But it’s also a beautiful one, in which colours have personalities and all objects have a name.
Devised alongside the National Autistic Society, We Live by the Sea is a studied and nuanced portrayal of an alienating disorder. Katy’s visceral experience is depicted by flashing light bulbs and a fragment of screen projected with memories, while live music and song are provided by on stage musicians.
Naturalistic dialogue sets a warmly familiar tone, especially Katy’s complete and endearing vocabulary. The favoured phrase “it’s a lovely thing” is uttered at little words or food that make her beam. She’s unable to understand idioms, so her sister’s complaint of “freezing my tits off” gives her cause for puzzlement. Other gems include her critique of Snoop Dogg’s lyrics: “I don’t know why you’d drop it if it wasn’t hot, because it might get broken.”
Above all it’s Alex Brain’s portrayal of Katy which hooks the audience. It’s a masterpiece of finely tuned observation. Her thoughts come out in a rush of words and she is childlike when emitting little screeches of ineffable delight. Her anxiety is all-consuming. When she screams it’s skull-invading, deafening. As a spectator you feel pushed away and frustrated. She evokes panic almost as often as she draws the audience in. Along with her we swing from euphoria to devastation.
The play lightly touches on the poor funding for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) children at state-funded institutions. Katy goes to a mainstream school which has withdrawn its support staff, meaning that she flounders trying to keep up with the other kids. It’s a conversation that needs to be heard.
Unsurprisingly, We Live by the Sea has picked up a raft of awards and nominations at the Edinburgh Fringe and the Adelaide Fringe. To watch is to be lost in the storm with Katy, but also to recognise her enviable position of honesty. She’s never afraid to say what she’s feeling, or to run fully clothed into the sea, or to fill the sky with her howls of sorrow.