Neal Pike produces a raw, intimate, and absorbing performance in his play, Five Years, with sign language interpretation from Sue Lee. Written and performed by Pike, the play explores the five years he spent at Foxwood Special Educational Needs school in Nottingham. It is an inclusive and ‘relaxed’ show designed to limit anxiety for performers and audience members – people are free to move around, make noise, and ask for ear defenders if they would like them.
Fundamentally, Five Years is deeply concerned with Pike’s battle for control over himself and the environment around him. As someone with severe dyspraxia and a stammer, control over his life was made more difficult by his struggles with coordination, and the teachers and health professionals who constantly told him he could not do things, be they handwriting or abseiling.
However, on the stage, Pike is in complete control.
In a series of anecdotes punctuated with interludes of soft music, Pike delves into the turmoil of his adolescence, bravely recounting stories of bullying and isolation, often with a dry, self-deprecating humour. The audience hangs on his every word, as he manoeuvres around the stage with deliberate precision, continuously shifting tables and chairs around to his liking. He even stops several times to sip from his water bottle in a manner that evokes his absolute authority over the time and space of the play.
This one-man performance, then, functions as a defiant response to the lack of control he felt growing up and resoundingly succeeds in conveying the importance of owning your own narrative.
The most intriguing line of the play is when Pike describes Foxwood as “Unlike other schools. It was very much like other schools.” This contradiction captures the spirit of the play – which is also both like and unlike conventional theatre – and conveys the universality of the bewildering experience of school years.
Five Years is a considerate and charged piece of theatre that is at once accessible and captivating – more theatre should be this inclusive.
Featured Image: Chris Bishop