Some Assembly Theatre Company’s premiere of How Star Wars Saved My Life is an intimate solo performance. Dr. Nicholas Harrison boldy recounts his personal story with the help of artifacts and pictures from his childhood, and the result is inspiring.
The show follows Harrison’s true story of surviving sexual and physical abuse from priests and others. Harrison’s journey of hope begins in a town literally called Hopeless where he attended a Catholic school that quickly became more of a prison to him. While living through what psychologists have aptly called “soul murder,” the film series Star Wars became a bastion of hope and wisdom that replaced Harrison’s spirituality in the face of religiously charged abuse. Harrison uses no hyperbole when he says that the Star Wars saga saved his life.
The first thing I noticed when entering the theatre was the elegant set design. I was delighted to discover it was full of secrets all the way to the end, never ceasing to surprise us with new ways of assisting Harrison’s storytelling. The set’s dynamicity gave the performance a seamlessness hard to come by in one-person performances.
Inspired by his childhood relationship to an action figure, R2D2, the beloved service droid from the Star Wars saga makes an appearance. Functioning as a sort of historian, R2D2 provided documents to supplement Harrison’s presentation. I won’t go into detail about how the droid appears on stage so as to avoid spoiling the reveal, but know that if you’re a Star Wars fan, you’re in for quite the treat.
Harrison’s wealth of experience and success shines through his performance and his writing. While masterfully interweaving storytelling techniques into his real memory, Harrison never seems to sacrifice authenticity or truth. Harrison’s performance easily captivates without ever losing its intimacy.
The play is just as much about sharing Harrison’s personal memories as it is about memory itself, whether it gives us strength or pain. Harrison, who firmly believes in protecting the child in all of us, has no need to suspend disbelief as he welcomes the audience into his past and introduces his child within, reliving the atrocities committed against him and rediscovering his path to recovery.
Harrison courageously invites the audience into some of the darkest places imaginable, but always holds onto his sense of humour. Laugh-out-loud comedy finds its way into the play at all the right moments, giving viewers the opportunity to relax and collect themselves.
It’s worthy of note that the production makes efforts to be accessible to those who might have trauma associated with the content of the play. Audience members are welcome to step out if they need to and a professional counsellor is at the ready to follow anyone who leaves to check on how they’re doing in case they need to talk. There’s also a talk-back every night that features two professional therapists who shared a lot of valuable knowledge about living with trauma after experiencing abuse.
How Star Wars Saved My Life is a true story well told. At times it’s harrowing, but ultimately it is uplifting and inspiring. Harrison’s is a story of incredible resilience and it stands as a beacon of hope for those living through abuse or with the trauma that comes with it.
How Star Wars Saved My Life closes on December 10th. Tickets and more information can be found here.