Last Train In by Adam Grant-Warren. A review.

Last Train In by Adam Grant-Warren. A review.

An audience is often complicit in how a story is told—particularly for solo artists (on the Fringe circuit and elsewhere).  Popular narratives sell tickets, thus engendering more popular narratives, ad infinitum.  Love conquers all, coming of age, overcoming a challenge—these are some of the more common tropes.  Equally popular is “person with a disability triumphs”.

During the Diversity Panel hosted by rice and beans theatre at Intrepid Theatre’s Uno Fest, Adam Grant-Warren was adamant—he wants no part in a self-congratulatory “theatre of disability” that would deem any effort worthy of a medal for participating, preferring to craft stories that contain an element of truth relevant to any theatre-goer.

Disrupting the theatrical and personal narrative is key to his theatrical journey.  With Last Train In, he proves the point in spectacular fashion.  In order to retain the suspense for future audiences this review is thus deliberately vague.

The stage is awash in a series of large grey moveable platforms, complete with steps and railings.  Enter Grant-Warren in a wheelchair.  He proceeds to move them here and there, and sets the lights and sound from a clicker he holds in one hand.

A teacher by profession, Grant-Warren’s style is clear, frank and open; the story, an episode from his first job, in a private school some distance from London.  In his off-hours, he loves to explore, heading out to find the city’s secret places and coming back late at night.  Usually, he has the assistance of the station keeper to carry his wheelchair while he laboriously negotiates the stairs. On this one fateful night, a replacement refuses to help. The audience watches in fascination and unease as he slowly manages to disassemble the chair and navigate the obstacle.  He succeeds. Yay! It’s over.

Not quite.

And what follows, in excruciating detail, is the honest account of his time in England, separated by thousands of kilometres from his girlfriend, teaching in Korea.

This segment dismantles perceptions about reality; it’s heartfelt, touching, self-aware, and a poignant reflection on the dangers of casting ourselves as heroes in our own stories.

As much as one wants to cheer for Adam who manages to hoist himself up steps and drag himself along one concourse after another, it is Adam with the quiet strength to call his own bullshit that wins our applause.

Leaving the theatre, one begins to ask “is my story helping me, or is it hindering?”  Adam’s courage to tell the truth is a fine example of theatre that speaks to the heart and provides a light on the path of our human journey.

As audiences it is our responsibility to demand theatre that strays from the common tropes. We owe it to ourselves, and to the courageous creators amongst us willing to lay their lives bare.

Last Train In had its world premiere at Intrepid Theatre’s Uno Fest May 24/25, 2017 and appears next in Vancouver at the rEvolver Festival May 31st (ASL interpretation available) and June 3rd (VocalEye).

Written and performed by award-winning theatre and film maker Adam Grant Warren, who was born with Cerebral Palsy, Last Train In is drawn from his lived experience. It is not, however, a typical story of disability and triumph over adversity. It is not about finding a way despite overwhelming odds. Instead, it’s about travel, romance, career expectations, and the all-too-human tendency to… embellish.

Moving back and forth in time, Last Train In follows Adam through his first year as a high school teacher in a small town outside of London, England – a year that ends with Adam literally trapped in a UK train station, between two flights of stairs and without an elevator, for over an hour. That’s where audiences find him at the opening of the play. Because now, almost ten years later, there is still a part of him that’s trying to leave that station behind.

Written and performed by Adam Grant Warren
Directed by Derek Chan
Produced by rice & beans theatre (Vancouver)

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