Endings and Beginnings

Rhi Lloyd-Williams

by Rhi Lloyd-Williams

What a year!

2019 saw our play The Duck: a glimpse into one autistic woman’s world, performing at Fringe Festivals, Conferences and (of course) so many fabulous theatres around the UK.

It was a real privilege to have been a part of the post-show Q&As. Hearing how people feel about this autistic woman, baring all (metaphorically) and showing all the parts of her that a lifetime taught her to keep quiet, was incredible.

What always amazes me most about sharing my experience of autism with the world, is just how much people share back. When you’ve grown up unsure about who you are supposed to be, and you’ve been taught that your natural ways of communicating are so often misunderstood, it is a risky business reclaiming the truth through showing people who you are – the good bits and the more difficult bits.

There’s always a risk that people will reject you all over again, but thankfully that wasn’t where 2019 took us. We engaged with so many new audiences, we developed new ways of putting on shows, we thought about how to help people get to the venues; we put a lot of effort into thinking about all the barriers autistic people face, and it really paid off.

I don’t think I have ever felt less alone than on that stage, after Lucy Theobald has finished her incredible performance of my words, engaging with everyone who gave me their time and emotions.

One of the Q&As, hosted by poet extraordinaire Kate Fox with me and Lucy Theobald who plays The Duck discussing autism, the arts and more.

But this is not an end, it’s just another beginning! The show must go on! 2020 has us moving on pastures new!

On the 14th and 15th of January we are heading to The Alma Tavern and Theatre for our unmissable opening nights of the tour.

Then we are off to The Spring Arts Centre in Havant, which is so close to my old stomping grounds, I can’t wait to breathe that air again.

In February we finally get to London for the first time, in the brilliant Studio of Greenwich Theatre on the 4th and 5th of February – I am more than a little bit excited about this one, any excuse for a London visit.

And then we are finally making it a bit further North with our performance in The Deli Theatre Sheffield on 7th of March – I love Sheffield so I think this one is going to be really special.

But the journey doesn’t end there. This year we have decided to brave the heady heights of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I’m not going to pretend that the mere idea doesn’t terrify me – all those crowds, all that relentlessness – but it seems like the right time for The Duck to swim those waters.

A huge thank you to everyone who has supported us so far, it’s the audience response that keeps us going. And an enormous thank you to Lucy Theobald for acting my words with such understanding and to Jo Loyn our director, for moulding those words into a performance.

If you know anyone who might be interested in coming along to see the show (this is very much a show for everyone and not just people with an autistic connection) or in reviewing The Duck, then you can find all the links to future dates on performances or please do get in touch – contact

Playing at Autism

by Rhi Lloyd-Williams

Two years ago, Jo Loyn and I were sitting in my kitchen in Wales, watching the rain tear at the hills in a stereotypically Welsh way, and enjoying a Summery mug of tea, when she asked me if I’d be interested in writing a play for an actor she wanted to work with.

I have to admit that my first thought was a wary one. I’m a poet, not a playwright. I write factual articles about autism, not fanciful theatrical ones. I’m autistic and straightforward, not a flamboyant lovey-darling. But using my autistic hyper-focus, within a week, I had sent her the first copy of The Duck

I was nervous as I drove the five hours out of the mountains and oaks and onto the concrete and tar, on my way to see if a fledgling play could emerge from the paper. I hadn’t met Lucy Theobald before, and for all I knew she could be just awful.

I needn’t have worried. I watched her elegance and poise develop its own tension and movement and she developed her own stims (a way of giving herself pleasant sensory information). There is a physicality to autism, even in those of us who are adept at hiding it. 

I watched Jo pull a performance from the flat pages of my words; playing with form and ideas with such skill and ease, as though they were hidden in the words for her eyes only. I watched Lucy develop the layers of her character under Jo’s direction, and was struck by the similarity with the way I had constructed my own socially acceptable mask. 

I was there to ensure that everyone understood why I would do this or that, why this was confusing and that was easy. I felt heard, I felt understood, but nothing could have prepared me for our very first performance when an autistic woman came to me afterwards and said simply, ‘You put me on stage.’ What critic could ever rival that for a review? What really struck me though, was that it wasn’t just autistic people who were connecting to the character, non-autistic people were too.

One of the things about being autistic and not knowing it, is that you grow up alone. You feel like the whole world is in on a joke that you don’t get. You can learn to laugh along, you can learn to pretend to get the joke, but you never get to feel that uncontrollable surge of glee, and instead of living, you are constantly watching for your cues to laugh. This is probably a terrible analogy to use, since another stereotype of autism is that we have no sense of humour when most of us do. 

Perhaps theatre and comedy are the purest of connections; people sitting together with no eye contact, not touching, but sharing an experience and responding to it as one. We’re not so different, not when you know what goes on behind the scenes.

You can watch The Duck at:-

The Arts at the Old Fire Station, Oxford, on Thursday the 19th of September at 7.30 pm 

The Barbican Theatre, Plymouth, on Saturday the 28th September at 7pm