Theatre Review: Clock for No Time

Words by Falie Klieve and Orla Spurr

An honest and inventive production about the lived experience of disability

Writer and director Michèle Saint-Yves.

Venue: Rumpus Theatre, Bowden
Written and directed by Michèle Saint-Yves

Written by Michèle Saint-Yves and part of RUMPUS theatre’s new season, Clock for No Time asks that perennial question — what makes us, us? What is consciousness, memory, personality,and who are we when it begins to slip away?

I’ll just say it off the bat: this show was absolutely brilliant.

Clock for No Time is an intimate exploration of family, disability, and loss. It is deeply rooted in Michèle’s own experiences of living with acquired brain injury and losing her father to Alzheimer’s disease. It’s not often that we see disability depicted in the media. It’s even less common to centre on a person who is simultaneously processing their own disability while watching a loved one deteriorate. If that sounds heart-wrenching, it is.

Michèle’s writing is exquisite. Her humour is coated with pain, like when she describes her brain as a “supercluster-fuck”. Her formal, scientific narration, which you’d think would contrast with the intimate family scenes, actually add to the poignancy. The neuroscience terminology is perfect, which makes sense knowing that Michèle holds a Bachelor of Medical Science in Neurobiology.

Jennifer Liston perfectly inhabits all of her roles — the casual, overly-familiar attitude of the MRI technician, the exhausted carer, the dutiful mother and grieving wife were all so convincing, her singing adding so much visceral emotion to the story.

I loved the way the main character reflects on the similarities between her and her dad. She has dementia caused by a subarachnoid cyst and he has advanced Alzheimer’s. The play illustrated the difficulty of being unable to find your words; feeling like your brain is slow, feeling like you don’t know who you are anymore.

“[I think about] the shapes of me I was meant to be — the activist, the gardener, the lifelong lover… the taxpayer”, she says — not an exact quote, but I found it very pertinent to the experiences of being disabled and treated like you are not contributing to society.

I know we hear it all the time from venues, but RUMPUS is truly committed to being as accessible as possible. They’re not just following the bare minimum codes for physical accessibility, but clearly welcoming people with disability, chronic illness and neurodivergence. I’ll admit, my own bar for accessibility may be hanging a bit low recently — the last venue I looked at had no map of the ground floor, no info on bathrooms, and a clause in their very corporate-focussed information pack stating that they were not liable for the working status of the elevator.

Clock for No Time has an event-specific audience information pack, available freely on the RUMPUS website. It is the most comprehensive (but still easy to read) accessibility summary we have seen from any venue. It is clear that this document was written with the input of people with actual lived experience of disabilityincluding public transport options and detailed descriptions of the carpark, entrances, bathrooms, foyer, stage — everything.

What impressed us most about the venue’s commitment to accessibility is that they go into all the gory details, including the shortfalls of the space — the gravel carpark, uneven footpath, bump in the doorway — giving visitors everything needed to make an informed and autonomous choice about their attendance. It’s right there on the website in multiple formats (pictures, video tours, audio descriptions, even a comic-style guide on how to enjoy the show), without requiring you to email or call anybody.

Both of us were particularly glad to hear that the venue caters specifically to the needs of neurodiverse folks — we were offered stim toys, told there was a quiet room available which we could request any time, and that we were allowed to sing, express ourselves, and use our phones (on silent) throughout the show.

I drew a diagram of all the options, only to come out during the mid-session break and see a scale model diorama of the entire performance space, complete with colour-coded buttons for audio description, as you can see here.

Clock for No Time is a heartfelt connection to the disabled and chronically ill experience, and the performances reflected that. Michèle Saint-Yves should be commended for her work. We left the show feeling immensely privileged, and grateful, to have shared in something so personal. And for that, I have nothing else to say but thank you, Michèle.

RUMPUS Theatre’s next production, Hamlet in the Other Room, plays from 30 Nov — 12 Dec. Book your tickets here.

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