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  • Family sit on a sofa watching TV
  • Teenage boy and older man take a selfie
Boy on the Roof Programme
#BoyOnTheRoof

Introduction by director, Rachael Savage

Where to start; our first new show since 2019. The initial idea was to explore relationships between neighbours and how the pandemic developed these relationships. I drank wine with Alan and James, and we all decided this was an interesting theme – how closely we live, yet how little we know what’s actually happening only feet away on the other side of the wall. During the pandemic, I became very interested in isolation and loneliness, particularly of older people. The character of Albert grew from conversations with a kind, generous Vamos Amigo called Phil Coates. Phil has had hearing loss for many years and as an older man (nowhere near as old as Albert), he has shared his experiences with me in and out of rehearsals around how hearing loss has made him more isolated. I was most interested by this point that he shared.

The general view of deafness is that it is a physical disability. It would be more accurate though to describe it as a social disability, not being able to connect. Quiet never hurt anyone, isolation does.”

Like with all my shows, research takes nearly two years. I’ve held community conversations all over the country talking to people about the themes of neighbours; I’ve talked to GPs, parents, teenagers, and teachers. I’ve been on training courses, watched documentaries. I was drawn to the subject of neurodiversity – ADHD in particular. In one community conversation, a fascinating woman called Jacquie Turner told me a story about her 4-year-old son, a boy later diagnosed as autistic. Jacquie told me that the way her son behaved meant they were never invited back to people’s houses or birthday parties, which also led to feelings of isolation and loneliness. One evening there was a knock on the door – it was a neighbour saying, “Your boy is on the roof”; all the neighbours were outside watching. Without, of course, wanting to encourage any dangerous climbing, I’ve been told by many people with ADHD that the roof was often their quiet place.

My understanding of ADHD has been helped enormously by Gavin Maxwell, who plays the part of Liam. We met at a workshop in London a couple of years ago. I immediately noticed Gav’s energy, focus and superb physical theatre skills. Gav hinted at neuro-spiciness (Gav’s phrase) and when I asked him about ADHD, he told me about his diagnosis in his mid-thirties which came as a relief and an understanding of why he was labelled as a badly-behaved boy at school. Gav agreed to play Liam, an un-diagnosed, misunderstood teenager. It’s been an amazing, exciting, obsessive, fixating rollercoaster. I have learned so much through Gav’s generosity and honesty. And for any teenager living with ADHD watching this show, let Gav be your inspiration as he’s been mine; he’s talented, energetic, eager, ambitious, empathetic and so very kind.

Interestingly Gav says, “ADHD stands for ‘Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder’. This for me, is a misleading description. For me, the problem isn’t that I have a deficit of attention, the problem is that most of the time, I have too much!

Going back to Phil and his loss of hearing, he told me that people are impatient with him, admitting that it knocks his confidence and that it’s easier to be antisocial. He said people give up on him. Doesn’t this sound similar to a teenager with ADHD? So, what happens when the two come together? Boy on the Roof, that’s what!

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CAST

In alphabetical order:
James Greaves - Dad
Gavin Maxwell - Liam
Alan Riley - Albert

All other parts played by members of the cast.

See full cast and production team biographies

PRODUCTION TEAM

Writer/Director: Rachael Savage
Additional writing: James Greaves and Alan Riley
Advisors: Gavin Maxwell, Phil Coates, Jenny Jarvis, Rosie Burton
Soundtrack composed and created by: Janie Armour and Sam Glossop
Set/Costume Designer: Carl Davies
Mask Maker: Russell Dean
Lighting Designer: Matt Clutterham
Film/Projection Designer: Daniel Hill
Sound Designer: Sam Glossop
Production Manager: Paul Milford
Tour Technician: Rhianne Cheetham
Voice-over scripts: Janie Armour
Rehearsal Stage Manager: Tisa Klicek
Design Assistant: Millie Else
Set Builder: Gavin Lewry
Photography: Graeme Braidwood
Print Design: Sauce Creative Communications Ltd.
Film extras: Joshua Patel, Shanez Pattni, Honor Hoskins, Joe Savage, Rosa Savage, Sarah Hawkins, Tamara Shumarina, Rachael Savage, Norah the dog

MUSICIANS:
Janie Armour: piano, keyboard, accordion, bass guitar
Simon Roth: drums, percussion

VOICE-OVER PERFORMERS:
Alun Bond: football commentary, football scores
Anna Darvas: traffic news, adverts
Joanna Holden: shopping channel, adverts
James Greaves: TV documentaries, Insta reels
Jane Reck: shipping forecast, TV news

See full cast and production team biographies

FOR VAMOS THEATRE

Artistic Director: Rachael Savage
Creative Producer/Youth Theatre Director: Honor Hoskins
Executive Producer: Claire Morton
Head of Comms: Janie Armour
Health Connector: Hazel Ratcliffe
Marketing Officer: Abbie Payton
Office Administrator: Sarah Hawkins
Office Administrator: Rhiannon Malbas
Vamos Central Lead: Rebecca Harrison
Vamos Central Assistant: Aadil Din
Deaf Ambassador: Mary-Jayne Russell

Trustees:
Penny Mayes (Chair)
Michael Addison
Claire Birch
Alison Blank

Nathalie Clément
Charlotte Hall
John Plant
Jalesh Sanchania

Q&A with the cast

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?
J
ames: 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.

Watch us in rehearsal

With thanks to...

Douglas Rintoul and the team at New Wolsey Theatre; Neil Reading and the team at Arena Wolverhampton; Helen Lannaghan and Joseph Seelig, Mime London; Sarah-Jane Morgan and the team at The Swan Theatre, Worcester; Chris Bassett; Jenny Jarvis; Rosie Burton; Hannah Minns; our amazing Vamos Amigos and all our regular funders.

Boy on the Roof is a co-commission with London International Mime Festival and a co-production with New Wolsey Theatre. Vamos Theatre is supported by Arts Council England as a National Portfolio Organisation.

City of Sanctuary

City of Sanctuary is a charity whose purpose is to build a culture of "hospitality and inclusiveness", predominantly for asylum seekers and refugees, by coordinating and supporting networks of community groups across the UK and Ireland.

With City of Sanctuary's support we are offering free tickets to Boy on the Roof  to asylum seekers and refugees. Thank you to the following venues for helping make this happen:
Macready Theatre, Rugby
Key Theatre, Peterborough
The Swan Theatre, Worcester

For more information about this, please contact the relevant venue.

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