The Vault Festival is always an experience – London’s biggest arts and entertainment festival enables fans of theatre, comedy, music and cabaret to discover new shows and acts while exploring the tunnels beneath Waterloo Station. This year’s festival is off to a strong start thanks to Snapper Theatre’s current production, Thomas, playing at the Network Theatre.

(c)Tyrone Lewis.

Written by Robbie Curran, Thomas tells the story of two cousins and life-long friends, and their journey from youth into manhood. Thomas (Curran) has Asperger’s, which, in his own words, is like driving a car that veers spontaneously to the left every now and then. David (Ben Lydon) doesn’t, and this play explores the experience and challenges of living with this often-misunderstood condition.

Aided by the neat direction of Lucy Foster, the play jumps around in time and the audience witnesses various moments from the young men’s lives – their school days, playing Pokémon games, finishing their A Levels, going to parties and getting high, and moving away to different universities. There are good times and bad for the both of them, and their friendship is explored in terms of how Thomas’s condition brings them together and tests them at times. The clever comedy-drama is laden with witty one-liners (“sometimes I can be an accidental dickhead”) but it’s also rich in tender and poignant moments between the friends which tug at the heartstrings.

The small cast of three all impress in their roles. Robbie Curran is utterly captivating as Thomas, who may not be able to understand sarcasm but is certainly good at dishing it out. He’s witty, honest and a joy to watch. Likewise, Ben Lydon charms as David, the “Tesco value Gary Barlow”. His character also goes through a tough time, and the raw emotion Lydon conveys is endearing and relatable. Completing the trio is Amanda Shodeko, who takes on a number of roles including David’s girlfriend Michelle and Thomas’s therapist, and she distinguishes between them effectively, to her credit. All three actors have great comic timing, not to mention chemistry, and their friendships are all believable.

The production makes good use of both sound (courtesy of Annie May Fletcher) and lighting (Holly Ellis) to reflect the changing mood and break in scenes – there’s a particularly clever moment towards the start of the play where the lighting helps to pause the action for Thomas to address the audience. Esteniah Williams’ set design is simple but effective – two cardboard boxes, decorated with Thomas and David’s childhood interests sit opposite one another, containing props, while two chairs double up as a car, armchair and a bed.

Thomas is Robbie Curran’s first play, which is hard to believe that given the quality of the writing. He’s used his own experience of Asperger’s to create an important play which offers a unique take on this condition and challenges stereotypes. Thomas is a warm, touching, thought-provoking tale about friendship which is sure to educate, entertain and bring a tear to the eye.

By Kirsty Herrington

Thomas is playing as part of the Vaults Festival at the Network Theatre until 27th January.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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