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“You Know We Belong Together”, written by Julia Hales, with Finn O’Branagáin and Clare Watson, and dramaturgy by Deborah May, is presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company, Perth Festival and DADAA – the WA organisation that provides opportunities in arts and culture for people with disability.

I was delighted to learn that this production would be enjoying an encore season since I missed it last year when it received a sold-out season for its world premiere. Clare Watson’s assertive and sensitive direction beautifully navigates the autobiographical account of Julia Hales’ life (so far) as a person with Down syndrome. The stories of Hales’ life are often juxtaposed with the settings and events of the hit series “Home and Away”, her favourite TV show of which she has seen every episode.

A large screen serves as a backdrop to projects images and footage of Summer Bay and surprising encounters with some of the actors from the series. Alongside the images that uphold Hales’ dream of appearing on “Home and Away” are the sincere proclamations of her dream to fall in love and share her life with someone. Though, ultimately, the play is a documentary of Hales’ wish “to make a show to help remind non-disabled people that people with Down syndrome are complex and emotional people like them” – and indeed, Hales has achieved her wish. This is done by sharing her own story and introducing the audience to other people with Down syndrome who are shown in interviews projected onto the screen, and who then inhabit the diner. They are Joshua Bott (a dancer and visual artist), Patrick Carter (artist and performer), Tina Fielding (performer), married couple Mark and Melissa Junor, and Lauren Marchbank (a trained dancer in ballet, contemporary and hip hop).

The most emotional moments are when Hales shares real images and stories of her family life, and especially when she talks about the relationships she has with her siblings, and the heartbreaking death of her mother. The structure of the writing of “You Know We Belong Together” partially mirrors the formula of “Home and Away” – a concentration of the formula for life: family, community, loving, living, death … and weddings.

Tyler Hill’s simple set design allows for the diner to emerge as a representation of community with cast members and some audience members becoming customers, each with a milkshake. Michael Carmody’s video design nicely complements the story and works effectively with Joe Hooligan Lui’s lighting design and Rachael Dease’s sound design.

“You Know We Belong Together” is a breath of fresh air; and as all good documentaries should, Julia Hales, Finn O’Branagáin and Clare Watson have added humour, passion, and heartbreak to give the audience a new understanding of a subject that has been misrepresented by society for far too long.

Suitable for audiences 12+ “You Know We Belong Together” is showing in the Heath Ledger Theatre, at the State Theatre Centre until 31 March 2019. Bookings: https://www.bsstc.com.au/plays/you-know-we-belong-together-0

Photo credit Toni Wilkinson

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