Following glowing reviews during its debut at Perth Festival, Black Swan Theatre have brought You Know We Belong Together to the Heath Ledger Theatre for an encore season. It is a gorgeously heartwarming tale about finding love, growing up, seeking acceptance, and the love of Home and Away. It is also a story about living with Down syndrome.
You Know We Belong Together is both a celebration and lesson in what it means to have Down syndrome, written by and starring someone with lived experience to share, the lovely Julia Hales. Hales is a smart, talented and beautiful woman, who just happens to have Down syndrome, and she shares the stage with her friends throughout the performance as each shares their own experiences of living with being a little bit different. However, as one actor declares, Down syndrome is caused by an additional chromosome that the rest of us are missing, so they are the ones who are obviously extra special. Audiences of the show will wholeheartedly agree.
The Summer Bay diner is set up onstage for all the actors and participants to hang out in throughout the performance as we are introduced to them, first via video then as Hale enthusiastically welcomes them to the stage one by one, before seating them for the rest of the show. They only leave to pluck unwitting spectators out of their seats to suddenly star in the show.
Hales has been a fan of Home and Away since its inception in 1988 and dreams of playing the first Down syndrome character. It is this character she has created, Claire Smith, who is suddenly in need of parents to play their roles out with her, and a handsome man to play the love interest. It is some of the funniest, most beautifully executed audience participation to be found. It is pure delight and overflowing with warmth for the heart.
However, these playful moments are not entirely frivolous, as she rightfully laments the lack of representation on screens and stages everywhere, particularly given that one in five Australians have some form of disability. There is no reason for these people to feel invisible in the media, and Hale’s work addresses this head on. The need for accessibility is also discussed pointedly and directly, and is role modelled through choosing to utilise an AUSLAN interpreter onstage and in the “diner” for every performance throughout the season.
Above all else, You Know We Belong Together is a love letter to Julia’s mother and a tribute to her passing. There is no doubt that she would be very proud of this touching, life affirming, hilarious and mesmerising love story. Highly recommended for all, it is suitable for ages 12 and up. Just be aware that the Home and Away theme song will stay with you for some time afterwards.
Photos by Toni Wilkinson