REVIEW: ‘Heart-warming’ Up Down Man debuts at Tobacco Factory Theatre

PUBLISHED: 16:02 10 November 2017 | UPDATED: 14:22 11 November 2017

Up Down Man. 
Photo Credit: Richard Davenport.

Up Down Man. Photo Credit: Richard Davenport.

Richard Davenport

A show packed with love, hope and laughter, while challenging the perception of what it means to be an adult in an ever-changing world, certainly left people looking inwardly while leaving a Bristol theatre last night.

Up Down Man. 
Photo Credit: Richard Davenport. Up Down Man. Photo Credit: Richard Davenport.

The sequel to Up Down Boy, which wowed audiences when it debuted in 2010, arrived at the Tobacco Factory and played to an appreciative full house.

Bristol-based company Myrtle Theatre has become recognised nationally for its incredible stories about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people.

Up Down Man asks the question which faces every parent of an adult with a learning disability – what will happen when I am not here?

But far from being the heavy-going, emotionally-draining kind of play with a subject matter I thought I might find uncomfortable to watch, all thoughts of having my heart-strings tugged and a tight-knot occur in my stomach soon disappeared and I found myself grinning from ear to ear and my heart warmed at the sight of the star of the show, Nathan Bessell, moving rhythmically around the stage, seemingly without a care in the world and oblivious to the room full of intrusive spectators.

Nathan Bessell as Matty Butler. Nathan Bessell as Matty Butler.

The charismatic Bristolian actor has an obvious love of performing and this shone through during every moment he graced the stage and the dance moves involving him and other cast members were extremely fluid, moving and beautiful to watch.

The show, from the pen of award-winning writer and director Brendan Murray, tells the story of Matty Butler, a child in the previous play, but this one invites audiences to look at the world in a new way as they follow Matty into adult life.

The show explores the issues surrounding bringing up a child with Down’s syndrome and coping with them still being at home but with them no longer being a child and wrestling with how to let them become an adult, and if indeed, they even should.

It is told from Matty’s point of view using a combination of monologue from a musical fox, dialogue between the family characters and original music and dance from choreographer Bryn Thomas and composer Kieran Buckeridge.

Up Down Man. Up Down Man.

The standard of acting from the small cast of Heather Williams as Matty’s dead mother, Emily Bowker as his sister Darcy, Arran Glass as his favourite toy Mr Fox, Joe Hall as his father and Bryn Thomas as his imaginary love interest was, I can honestly say, the highest I have ever experienced in my many years of reviewing shows. I totally bought into their family unit and felt like I was an eavesdropper on the wall of a neighbour’s home.

The story moved seamlessly along with never a dull moment and perfectly depicted the trials and tribulations you would imagine families dealing with this situation must face on a daily basis.

But although this type of theatre usually challenges people’s perceptions, most will know being an adult is about being responsible, making a multitude of difficult daily decisions and if you have children, guiding them down the correct path to being a responsible adult themselves.

But this piece actually leaves you thinking not enough time is devoted to remembering what it is like to be a child and holding onto that innocence which gave you freedom and probably is a time you were happiest.

Ignorance is not bliss, but innocence just might be.

These feelings are explored more fully in a post-show discussion, led by the show’s producers.

All in all, the play is funny, provocative and extremely moving and I urge anyone to give it a go, even if you think it might not be your type of thing. This story shows you that you should always challenge yourself as you might find you don’t know yourself as well as you think you do.

Up Down Man will be at Tobacco Factory Theatres, in Raleigh Road, at 7.30pm until November 18. There will be a 1.30pm show on November 16, and 2.30pm performances on November 11 and 18.

There will be no show on November 12-13.

Tickets, priced £12-16, are available from 01179 020344 or online at

Tickets to the REACT workshop are priced £5 for 14-25 yearolds and are available from the theatre’s website.

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