Play delivered an emotional clout

Actors Steve Hannam and Ben Maytham in Living with Luke, taken by Phoenix Theatre Arts. (s)
Actors Steve Hannam and Ben Maytham in Living with Luke, taken by Phoenix Theatre Arts. (s)
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Living with Luke braved tough opponents - wrestling not only the Autistic Shadow but stereotypes of masculinity - to deliver an emotional knock-out.

Set in a wrestling ring and staged at The Burnley Mechanics, Director and Writer Paul T. Davies’ brand-new play is based on the blogs of a father struggling to communicate with his autistic son.


Actor Steve Hannam, who played himself, adopted his persona as a blogger and former semi-professional wrestler, Danson Thunderbolt, taking on heavyweight champ, the Autistic Shadow, in the ring.


The play exploded with theatrical violence, Thunderbolt taking hit after hit from his opponent: an apt metaphor for the emotional battering experienced day-to-day as a father marooned from his child’s autistic world.


But the wrestling symbol - amplified toughness, sometimes staged for entertainment - was also a feminist move helping to crack the hard shell men are expected by society to present.


Hannam gave a vibrant performance as a man of strength yet weaved the play with a remarkable tenderness through his honesty about his vulnerabilities.


It was this sincerity, juxtaposed against stereotypical toughness - physical power, emotional resilience - to depict the despondency of fathers as natural that delivered the most potency.


This thoughtful show invested Luke’s character - through specific, personal details, Ben Maytham’s believable performance and Hannam’s hilarious memories and observations of his son’s behaviour - with an individuality.


The wrestling persona, the Autistic Shadow, an unrelenting opponent, was a clever metaphor for depicting Luke as more than his condition.


The tone of the play balanced hope and celebration with fear and despair to create a realistic view of life with autism.


Overriding, however, was a hunger, fired by love, to fight on. How I left the theatre feeling - the way one might expect of a wrestler stepping into the ring - says it all: hopeful, inspired, but thirsty for a clean house against the stereotypes and conditions that distance or pit us against one another.


Hannam tells his story in more detail through his blog, which can be viewed at www.dansonthunderbolt.wordpress.com


The actor has also released a book depicting his life with his son. To order a copy, please visit https://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Lessons-Living-Luke-Autistic-ebook/dp/B00YIT5UJK