This inclusive musical from the National Theatre of Scotland and Birds of Paradise Theatre Company, a company which puts disabled people at the heart of what it does, takes its inspiration from Daniel Day-Lewis’ turn as Christy Brown in My Left Foot.
The film, released in 1989, was the first time director, Robert Softley Gale, had seen a character with the same impairment as himself (cerebral palsy) in mainstream culture. His mum raved about Daniel Day Lewis’s brilliant performance and how ‘he’s just like you’ but Softley Gale struggled with the portrayal of a disabled person by a non-disabled actor. Such depictions of disability that litter our culture reinforce ideas that disabled people are victims, trapped inside bodies and in need of pity. So what better way to reclaim stories of disability than to create a musical comedy that pokes fun at the attitudes of non-disabled people, both then and now, and makes people laugh hysterically while realising that there are other ways to look at things.
A play within a play, taking a dig at ‘am-dram’ organisations, the action centres around the Kirktoon players. In the world of amateur theatre, winning the one-act festival isn’t a matter of life and death – it’s much more important. Enthusiastic Amy (Louise McCarthy) thinks she can save the day but is grumpy Chris (Matthew Duckett) up for the challenge? Gillian (Dawn Sievewright) has been given the role of Movement Director but she’s only got Grade Three Modern and Tap and the scene where she has them floundering on the stage practising their moves is shockingly hilarious. Meanwhile, Grant (John McLarnon) as the lead, is just too busy fancying himself. Throw in a few love triangles and throw out political correctness; all the drama happens behind the curtains.
With every performance offering integrated British Sign Language (BSL), ably executed by Natalie MacDonald, visual description from Gavin Whitworth, the musical director and pianist, loop and captioning, the challenge becomes what to watch on stage – the actors performing or the captions that explain what we are hearing and that at times are so outrageous that you can’t believe this is what they’re singing.
It is a high-energy musical with superb performances from all, posing many questions about inclusivity and acceptance. However, at 90 minutes, it feels overly long and labouring the point. Nonetheless it will challenge you as to what is politically correct and hopefully lead to greater acceptance of disability.