Daniel Oliver // Max Dyspraxe

Jane Unsworth

The Wellcome Collection website lets you know that Daniel Oliver's Weird Séances come with a 16+ suitability notice. As everyone's getting settled into their seats for his talk at Normal? Festival of the Brain, an on-screen slide tells us that this spin-off, Max Dyspraxe, has been adapted in two ways – he'll not be wielding an axe, or getting his kit off. This is reiterated by the promoter, Susanna Howard.

Then Oliver arrives into the performance space wearing head-to-toe army camouflage netting, wielding an axe. He reads his own slide, walks off stage, walks back on, discards axe. It's the first laugh and we're off. Unaware of his work, the premise of Oliver's deconstructionist event begins it's unravelling by hurtling into audience participation, where the first 'victim' is brought up to hold a branch. Later on, we learn that bit was arranged beforehand. This is swiftly followed by the identification of someone else who Oliver wants to 'play with'. She winds up wearing his army camouflage netting in a coat-like fashion for the duration.

Oliver’s Weird Séances are described online as:

"raucously, roughly layered participatory performances about participatory performance. They haphazardly emerge from an unabashed embracing of Daniel’s Dyspraxia. Each show is clunkily crow-barred into its site and context - re-jigged, added to, undone and perverted, so that no two performances are the same."

Next he hones in on another participant who arrives on stage as Tree Two. He fails to remember her name time and again, as I am now, although she continues to prompt him with it. But he reminds us it's part of his condition, and although it's hard to know whether it's intentional it's funny either way. Tree Two plays along to a point but is awk-wood at times. As the show progresses we're lured into a dark pantomime of his explaining the plot as it unfolds, hilarious in its awkward simplicity.  We're encouraged to imagine the scene in the future where the audience have been slaughtered by said axe. He sets the scene in the Awk-woods. We are, Oliver tells us, in some woods in the future looking back on a traumatic incident that occurred in this space, during this show. The trauma of the event is underlined by Tree's Two's loss of the 'friend' she came to the show with. Tree Two names her Jennifer, which in this case is made all the funnier because this lady came to the show on her own. Not knowing anyone either, she's made to identify and name the person she imagines she came along with, hence the birth of Jennifer. Once pointed out she is given some plastic sheeting to wear.

Dr Daniel Oliver didn't receive his Dyspraxia diagnosis until embarking on a PhD after it was suggested he be tested. And the show is made all the more charming and poignant when Oliver meets a similarly dyspraxic audience member of around 13. He’s encouraged to interject, and whatever he comes up with is warmly welcomed as Oliver stops the show to engage. It's a verbal hug that invites him to be himself, despite how others may perceive him as a result of his condition. As an audience we love, hold and encourage both. As described the story unravels and contains much audience participation; awkwardness, noise, people playing instruments, and much laughter.

After the programme finishes I go over to ask Oliver how he thinks he would have fared to have his diagnosis as early as Jack's, because I wonder at the effect these labels place on kids. Oliver says it's a bit of a double-edged sword as he believes now that he developed some savvy strategies to deal with his condition when younger that went on to serve him, where being diagnosed has made it an easy cop-out on occasion to fall back on the Dyspraxia. This show was bright, charming, very funny, inclusive, and educational. I walked away having peered into the window of why a Dyspraxic may feel they don't always fit in with the rest of the world. (JU)


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Weird seance - https://wellcomecollection.org/events/daniel-oliver-weird-seance

Symptoms of Dyspraxia - http://dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk/dyspraxia-children/symptoms/

What is Neurodiversity? - https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/my-life-aspergers/201310/what-is-neurodiversity

Firms Seeking Neurodiversity - https://venturebeat.com/2017/05/07/software-firms-are-actively-seeking-neurodiverse-employees/

#weirdseance #dyspraxia #performanceart #participatoryperformance