David Nicol was already in his 40s when the performance bug first bit him. He joined a drama group about five years ago, and in 2015 installed himself at Forest Fringe and watched the entire programme. One show in particular, Emma Frankland's Rituals for Change, lodged in his heart, because in it Frankland – a transgender woman – said that “people look at me, but they don't really see me”. She expressed what Nicol has felt his whole life, and in doing so inspired him to tell his own story: the one we hear in this show.
Nicol has cerebral palsy, which means – among other physical effects – he sometimes has trouble speaking and swallowing. To ease the pressure on his voice (and, in a wry way, widen accessibility), his script is projected above his head throughout the show. It's a smart move, because every time he deviates from it, whether through the vagaries of memory or with characterful ad-libs, he gives it more buoyancy – and tightens his hold on the audience's attention. We can look at the printed text, but by listening carefully to his vocal intonations and noting the inflection of a raised eyebrow or pursed mouth, we can start to see Nicol more clearly – more really.
What we see is someone who was brought up by his parents to consider himself normal: someone who is normal, in getting dressed when he starts the day, getting an education, falling in love, finding a sense of meaning and value through community work. Most discussion about disability, he argues, focuses on what people can't do: why not speak instead of can? Although he now radiates purposeful cheer, it took Nicol several years to reach this place of optimism, and it's clear that the low confidence and lack of self-worth that consumed him after he graduated university was a direct result of the negative expectations and assumptions regarding disability rife in our culture. Attitudes have changed for the positive since his childhood in the 1970s, he admits – but there is still much work to be done before Nicol can say “I'm normal” and have no one question him. (MC)
Chains On Sink Plugs ran at Forest Fringe (Out of the Blue Drill Hall) from 18th-19th August - http://forestfringe.co.uk/edinburgh2016/artist/david-nicol/
ECAS, the Edinburgh organisation for people with disabilities where Nichol volunteers: http://www.ecas-edinburgh.org/
The national campaign for disability rights: http://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/
Information on cerebral palsy: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Cerebral-palsy/Pages/Introduction.aspx
Emma Frankland: http://notyetarobot.co.uk/