DISABILITY

What the **** is Normal? // Francesca Martinez

Although this was the second time I’d seen Francesca Martinez, her show was still my highlight of Normal? 2018. Francesca’s experiences of school and life beyond mirrors my own. She describes how school ground the confidence out of her and how bullying, by both pupils and teachers, affected her mental and physical health, and then describes how she found a way out of the course that had seemingly been set for her.

Her description of her life draws empathy rather than sympathy. 

She doesn’t want to be patted on the head and told 'Poor little thing'. She totally rejects the description of herself as ‘disabled’, preferring instead to call herself 'wobbly'. The stories she tells are laugh-out-loud funny, but she is also a campaigner and educator, addressing school children to give them the confidence that she was robbed of. Martinez points out that society deliberately makes us feel inferior, or, as she puts it: 'Society breeds self-loathing'. Many of us can remember being told, during our teenage years, that ‘how we look is not important’. But, of course, at that stage of our lives, how we look can seem to be the most important thing in the world.

Martinez’s show emphasizes :

‘Don’t fear difference’

‘Being different is important’

‘Only care what you think of yourself’

‘Life is too short to be spent doing something that you hate’

- Keven Blake

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Francesca Martinez - Russell Howard's Good News (YouTube)

A Wobbly Girl's Battle Against the Last Taboo - The Independent

Martinez and the WOW Welfare Bill - Disability News Service

Francesca Martinez on Woman's Hour - BBC Radio 4

Not I / Touretteshero

Jess Thom’s performance of Samuel Beckett’s Not I breaks down not only the text through the interjections of ‘biscuit’ throughout, but the sense that this modernist monologue must be enjoyed by a soberly pensive audience that then talk about it afterwards. Here the audience are introduced and welcomed by Thom, who outlines the parameters of the project and introduces those not familiar with her Tourette’s Syndrome to its manifestation and impact on her performance. The integrated BSL of Charmaine Wombwell is a constant visual score to everything that occurs. There is preparation and a welcome before the performance. After we’re settled, we sit in the dark where we feel the performer raised into position eight feet above the stage, and listen to the rustle of the hood that obscures all but her mouth in accordance with Beckett’s stage instructions. Thom delivers the rapid text clearly and powerfully, as strong a performance and as necessary as any other.

This performance of Not I reclaims Mouth (the central character within the monologue) as a disabled figure, one that Thom states she found instantly familiar. As Mouth narrates the rising tide of words that bursts from her, Thom discusses how it reflects her own experience as someone with Tourette’s. After performing the abstract and oblique monologue, Thom comes back down and sits with us, asking our opinions and answering any questions that we might have about the text or her performance. It’s an intensely open performance of an often-impenetrable text, one that takes it down off some imaginary pedestal and asks its audience to chat about how it can speak to us today. Whilst there has been some pushback recently against the renovation and repurposing of ‘classic’ dramatic texts, exemplified by the firing of Emma Rice from the Globe and the statements of David Hare, Touretteshero’s version of Not I reasserts the value of rethinking new contexts for great writing. Continual reinvention is always preferable to staid orthodoxy.

-       Lewis Church

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Not I - Touretteshero

Not I Audience Information (BAC) 

Jess Thom on Not I - Guardian

Emma Rice Bows Out as Artistic Director of The GlobeNew York Times

An Open Letter to David HareExeunt

Wretched // Richard Stott

Richard Stott’s stand-up show documents his experiences as an actor with a disability. Born with Poland syndrome, a condition that resulted in an underdevelopment of his hand and chest, he recounts his experience of existing in an awkward position between identifying as disabled and not due to his ‘non-conformist left hand’. Re-enacting the misguided attention of casting agents and directors, his jokes orbit the fallibility of arbitrary labels, and the grim irony of his position. Once told that he was too young to play Richard III, it was nevertheless acceptable for a marginally older actor to adopt a clawed hand in the role. One incongruity with the character’s body as written was acceptable, whilst the other was not.

Stott’s performance traces the shifting attitudes to disability through the prism of the experience of a performer, from the Ancient Greece through the Victorian era to his own today. Drawing on a memory from a holiday in Athens, Stott asks what his potential as an actor in the Theatre of Dionysus might have been. He asks if he would have been able to perform, or thrown from the rocks in the distance as an ‘imperfect’ specimen. Or would he have participated in the Victorian freak show, making money from his difference? Is it better to hide his disability or engage with it?

The question of disabled actors and disabled roles is one that periodically emerges in high-profile public debate. Eddie Redmayne, Daniel Day Lewis, Tom Hanks and Sam Clafin have all engaged in this ‘disability drag’, as Roger Ebert once put it, to extended protest and debate. The ‘shortcut to an Oscar’ route for playing disabled characters is a cliché, and is now at least questioned when it emerges. The other side of this coin, the stereotyping of the disabled actors, within the work they are able to secure, is equally problematic. The pressure to resist poorly written characters that correspond to a disability is a dilemma within an ultra-competitive casting climate, where any work is to be treasured. Those who manage to negotiate this, are few and far between. Even disabled actors at the peak of their fame still face this difficult negotiation, as Peter Dinklage has attested to. Diversity quotas are a blunt instrument, and as Stott observes, it is one that often leaves actors like him, with a disability but not particularly disabled, in the moral dilemma of grasping the opportunity or denying the work.

-       Lewis Church

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Wretched - Richard Stott

Actor Has Fingers Replaced With ToesHuffington Post

Poland Syndrome - Genetics Home Reference

Disability Drag - Roger Ebert

Peter Dinklage on Choosing Roles Carefully - The Talks

SHARP EDGES / Amelia Sweetland

SHARP EDGES / Amelia Sweetland

Sharp Edges (written and performed by Amelia Sweetland) is an intense exploration of female mental illness. Filmed sequences and voiceover showing Sophie at home are used to break up a series of sessions Sophie has with the therapist her GP sends her to when she complains of insomnia. Slowly, Sophie's past and Sophie herself start to unravel.

SPOONFACE STEINBURG / Top Right Theatre

SPOONFACE STEINBURG / Top Right Theatre

Spoonface knows that people in operas die beautifully and she wants to die beautifully too. Diagnosed with autism, and later terminal cancer, the child walks along silver linings in this hour-long monologue. Tackling the difficulties of development disabilities and terminal illness, Spoonface’s optimism never falters, as the backing track of Puccini’s ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ lulls us into a romantic view of death.

ALTERED MINDS, ALTERED REALITIES / Augustus Stephens

ALTERED MINDS, ALTERED REALITIES / Augustus Stephens

Altered Minds, Altered Realities is a one-act, one-man play in which the playwright and actor, Augustus Stephens, depicts six characters in turn in a series of monologues, poems and songs. Each named character is living with a different serious mental illness.

DANCER / Gary Gardiner, Ian Johnston, Adrian Howells

DANCER / Gary Gardiner, Ian Johnston, Adrian Howells

Two dapper gentlemen dance on a stage, tuxedoed and practised and feeling their songs. To pop hits and mirrorball classics, they induct the audience into their friendship and collaboration, with jokes and stories and practised moments of quiet. One has a disability, the other does not, but neither are trained and their movement is open to anyone.

THE DOUG ANTHONY ALLSTARS LIVE ON STAGE!

THE DOUG ANTHONY ALLSTARS LIVE ON STAGE!

In the 1980s, the Doug Anthony All Stars (DAAS) trio were a renowned shock-comedy band. Reunited now, the passage of time has left them as a self-described 'pensioner, cripple and human being'. Lead singer Paul McDermott performs a purposely uncomfortable attitude towards his bandmates that, combined with parody songs and stand-up, highlights a society in which people are allowed to 'fade out' once they leave the realm of healthy prime of life.

GUERILLA ASPIES / Paul Wady

GUERILLA ASPIES / Paul Wady

Paul Wady was accidentally diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome at the age of 41, after a run in with the police following his behaviour in a cinema. During the 12 years since, he has collected experiential anecdotes and evidence from other people with autism diagnoses and their families, helping to create a picture of what ‘Aspie normal’ is.

THE ONE LEGGED MAN SHOW / Nils Bergstrand

THE ONE LEGGED MAN SHOW / Nils Bergstrand

Nils Bergstrand was the first disabled person to graduate from the musical theatre course at London's Royal Academy of Music. He auditioned after a passion for singing revealed itself through therapeutic exercises in acknowledging positive responses to the world, undertaken to cope with the post-traumatic stress of losing his leg.

TRACING GRACE / OffTheWallTheatreCo

TRACING GRACE / OffTheWallTheatreCo

Sixteen people are diagnosed with encephalitis – severe brain inflammation – every day in the UK, yet most of the public have never heard of it. Based on the real life experiences of writer and director Annie Eves, whose sister Grace was diagnosed with the condition at just three weeks old, Tracing Grace aims to open our eyes to the existence of encephalitis and the challenges of living with its long-term impact.

COOK IT HOW YOU LIKE, IT'S STILL A POTATO / Romina Puma

COOK IT HOW YOU LIKE, IT'S STILL A POTATO / Romina Puma

Romina Puma enters the room using her wheelchair, stands up to get on stage and declares ‘a miracle’. Setting an extravagent tone for her latest show, Cook It How You Like, It’s Still a Potato. Puma quickly discloses as having muscular dystrophy - just in case we are under any illusion she's faking it.

THE INEVITABLE HEARTBREAK OF GAVIN PLIMSOLE / SharkLegs

THE INEVITABLE HEARTBREAK OF GAVIN PLIMSOLE / SharkLegs

Few body parts are more engaged with (both literally and metaphorically), in theatre and literature, as the heart, and The Inevitable Heartbreak of Gavin Plimsole joins a healthy tradition of artwork in which heartbreak informs a medical heart condition, and in which a medical heart condition informs the story of a heartbreak.