In the new year we welcome Oddly Moving’s new show, He Ain’t Heavy. Performer Grania Pickard tells the story of growing up with her disabled autistic brother Sean using physical theatre, aerial circus, audience interaction and storytelling.
We caught up with Grania to find out more about the show which she performs on Wednesday 9 January.
Tell us about He Ain’t Heavy…
He Ain’t Heavy is an autobiographical story about my severely disabled, epileptic and autistic younger brother, Sean. We use circus, physical theatre, storytelling, audience interaction and puppetry to attempt to bring Sean into the room, introducing him to an audience and also looking at how his unique approach to life has shaped me as his sister.
Why did you decide to tell the story of Sean in this particular form?
The dawning realisation that I would one day be responsible for Sean coincided with a time in my career when I felt ready to make my first circus-theatre show and create my own company. When I began exploring ideas about what this show could be, I kept coming back to ideas centred around Sean and in particular how I could use circus and a massive park swing to tell the story of our relationship. The show has changed a lot since our initial explorations but the essence of setting it in a park has remained.
The use of puppetry in theatre has been transformed in recent years. What are the advantages of puppetry over a live performer?
In this instance it allows the audience to imagine Sean from his shoes up, forming their own picture of how he is from the clues we give, such as how he walks and talks. I’d feel uncomfortable asking a live performer to pretend to be my brother, but the puppet gives us license to create him without imitating him.
What do you hope audiences will take from the experience of seeing the show?
I hope that audiences will feel very welcomed and have fun! We like to imagine we’re inviting you into my living room and at times stepping back into the 80s. I hope that the show will resonate with other families like mine and for those who aren’t close to someone with severe learning disabilities provide a small insight into that world. We’ve had some lovely feedback over the last year and audience members have felt it reminded them of their own sibling and family relationships, regardless of the reasons…I think we are all close to someone who we love very deeply but who are sometimes also the most annoying person we’ve ever known.
Can you tell us a bit more about your background in performance?
I loved theatre when I was growing up and studied drama at school, went to Hull Truck youth theatre and was in all the school plays! When it came to choosing what to do I found myself studying dramaturgy at Bretton Hall, alongside some directing and performing. Like many people I wasn’t clear what direction to take and tried lots of different things. It wasn’t until I saw a circus show at the Edinburgh Fringe that I began to feel I’d found the thing I wanted to put all my energy into and a few years later took the plunge and did a year’s circus training at Circomedia. The past eight years have been an exciting time bringing my theatre and circus training together, performing in some incredible shows, meeting wonderful people and now making my own work.
Is this your first time performing at Chichester? Do you have any connections to the city?
It is my first time – thank you for having us! I’m looking forward to spending some time having a look around. I do have connections in the area as I’m an associate artist at The Point and everyone there is very excited about the show being in Chichester.