Living on the edge of society

As Daniel Ryan says, everyone will know someone rather like Peppy and Daniel, the characters Samantha Spiro and he are creating in Chichester's Minerva Theatre in The House They Grew Up In, a new play by Deborah Bruce (July 14-August 5).

Monday, 24th July 2017, 6:02 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 6:20 pm
Daniel Ryan and Leonardo Dickens. Photo by Johan Persson
Daniel Ryan and Leonardo Dickens. Photo by Johan Persson

The piece is set in the present day in a residential street in south-east London. The house where reclusive siblings Peppy and Daniel were born is now stuffed full of everything they have ever owned. This hoard, their eccentric appearance and rampant garden hedge set them conspicuously apart from others on their road.

When young Ben visits from next door he is simply looking for friendship; but what happens next challenges everyone’s idea of neighbourliness…

“Hopefully some of it will be very funny, but we are talking about a couple of people living on the edge of society, two people who are frightened of other people and of what is outside and of what might happen to them.

“It is not implicit in the script how they have got to this point, but we have invented a reason why they might have got left behind. We are talking about two people, one with a disability, one suffering from mental illness, and as time has gone on, they have just become more and more unable to cope with the outside world. Time has left them behind. They are co-dependent, and whether being co-dependent is a good thing or a bad thing, they are in their routines.

“And I think the audience will understand why they stay away from everyone else and don’t want to go outside their four walls, living in this house in horrendous disrepair.

“From discussions, I think everyone has got a relative that is rather like this or knows someone in their street that is shut away, that they never see or when they do, they just scuttle in and out very quickly. I am a big believer in neighbourhood and community, but these are people that live outside it.

“My character Daniel is on the autistic spectrum. We suspect certainly he has suffered from bullying at school.

“We suspect that his parents removed him from school. He loves being in his own head. He doesn’t go out often. If he does, it is just once or twice on the bus into Lewisham with his sister. But he doesn’t experience much the outside world.

“He has got a photographic memory, though. From a child, he could remember the shoes of everybody standing at the bus stop and could draw them.

“He keeps this fantastic picture-book diary of everything that has made an impact on him. With the next-door child, he has a wonderful relationship. The next-door child comes and tests him on this book.”

There is plenty that is grim.

“But actually, the play is a really positive play. It is a play of hope. It takes a turn in the middle of it and we are thinking something dreadful has happened and we think something even worse is going to happen…

“But the play doesn’t go in the direction you think it is going to go at any point. If it was TV drama, you would know exactly what is going to happen. But the play changes direction and gives you a really hopeful view of society, that it might not be as bad as you think if you open your door…”

Joining Daniel Ryan and Samantha Spiro are Daisy Fairclough, Michelle Greenidge, Mary Stockley, Matt Sutton and Philip Wright, with Leonardo Dickens and Rudi Millard sharing the role of Ben.

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