Performers James Greaves, Gavin Maxwell and Alan Riley discuss the characters they play and how they were created.
Liam (Gavin Maxwell)
Q: Can you tell us a bit about the character of Liam?
Gavin: Liam is a 15-year-old teenager with undiagnosed ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). He is having a challenging time at school because of this, and he is also struggling to be understood by his parents - especially his dad, who we suspect may also have ADHD (many believe it is hereditary). Because of Liam’s ADHD, his brain produces a lack of dopamine (a chemical in the brain that makes you feel happy), which pushes Liam to go about seeking to compensate for this deficiency in other ways. Sometimes these are negative and sometimes these are positive actions. One of the positive ways Liam unknowingly manages his condition is through his love and passion for football - he loves moving his body and competing. Liam is also incredibly emotionally intelligent, which is why he is so brilliant at connecting with Albert, his neighbour, and being able to empathise with his situation. It’s also why he is so brilliant with his other neighbours’ newborn baby.
Q: How have you approached creating this character?
Gavin: I have definitely drawn on my own lived experiences of undiagnosed ADHD as a teenager. As a father of two children with ADHD I have also pulled on this experience to try and create an authentic character. Often this condition is poorly mis-represented in our media - individuals are usually depicted with poor concentration and organisational skills and although these can be traits of ADHD, they are only a very small part of a very complicated condition. So, it has been very important to create and offer accurate representation by striking a balance in unmasking this condition for stage. This has meant shining light on the positives of ADHD, like Liam’s capacity to solve problems with Albert’s new smart phone or his ability to pick up chess rapidly. As well as some of the more challenging aspects, like rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) which impacts Liam’s ability to take criticism and deal with rejection. This is really apparent in the story when Albert asks Liam to leave after spending too much time with him.
Albert (Alan Riley)
Q: Can you tell us about the character of Albert?
Alan: Albert is an elderly man, maybe in his late 80s/early 90s. He is relatively fit and able to generally look after himself, although suffering from the usual ailments of old age - deafness, failing eyesight, memory lapses, pains in the legs, shoulders and back etc. He also shows frustration with the trappings of the modern world (mobile phones, hearing aids etc) and a degree of belligerence when forced to engage with them by his less than empathetic son. Loneliness is a very real feature of Albert’s life. He’s been a widower for some time but still misses his wife terribly, regularly referencing her chair/walker and photograph. He also plays chess ‘with her’. There is a suggestion that they may have central European origins.
Q: How have you approached creating Albert?
Alan: The first thing was to get the mask and absorb the shape, weight and expression, then get a feel for what it felt like from the ‘inside’. Taking on board the physicality, including impediments, of a man of his age was crucial. This informs the body shape, gait and speed of movement, dexterity etc. I find that some simple costume elements help a lot. A woolly hat and scarf, spectacles maybe, or a well-worn but comfortable cardigan. My father-in-law is in his mid-nineties and has proved a useful source of some of these details. So, as the presentation of Albert has a basis in observed reality, I’m hopeful that our audiences will find him believable and subsequently warm, funny, likeable and charming.
Dad (James Greaves)
Q: Tell us more about the character of Brian Baxter, Liam's dad.
James: Brian is middle-aged and a family man. His relationship with his son demonstrates the, sometimes, destructive nature of ADHD when it is not understood. Brian is just plain worn out and coping badly with teenager Liam and his behaviour. I think it is fair to say he doesn’t understand his son, and his reaction to Liam is often fraught. However, there is tenderness to him, and we see this in really small moments, of which one of my favourites is when he quietly regrets in private his reaction to not noticing and celebrating Liam’s football achievements.
Q: How have you created Brian?
James: We first developed Brian in the Research and Development process, when Rachael and Russell, the mask maker, had conversations about what he should look like. When the mask itself arrived, he wasn't quite right, and was eventually recast as a completely different character. But once that was solved, the search was on for Brian. The mask can lead the physicality and vice versa, but it comes down to technique. Looking at the mask, working it in the room, finding the business, then texturing the business with mannerisms, foibles, habits that round out the character. Sometimes those mannerisms take time to emerge. Other times, the mask creates them immediately. Some characters are instant and just walk out on stage from the get-go, some need a little nurturing. Brian Baxter proved trickier. In his case, he started out as very one dimensional and it was hard to find his softer side – but that has come over time.