It is a rainy night in Edinburgh. I expect to find a car parking place easily, but to my horror find the streets jammed, there is a rock concert on next door. I park three streets away and jog towards the venue. 3 minutes to spare. If I was disabled, I would be in a right pickle.
Appropriate, given that the show tonight is from BOP, a leading force of disability led theatre in Scotland. Established in Glasgow in 1993, Birds of Paradise (BOP) Theatre Company became Scotland’s first touring theatre company employing disabled and non-disabled actors. The remit of the company has always been to produce accessible theatre and to highlight the challenges faced by the disabled community.
I am delighted to see that the 250-seater theatre is near capacity and the demographic is refreshingly young, student, lively. The steeply raked seating gives everyone a bird’s eye view of the stage, which seemingly provides a view into someone’s tired looking living quarters. The set looks like something from a 1970’s sitcom, a battered old sofa sits centre stage, a set of crutches leans against a cheap dining table. But look more closely and you see ‘Able’ an Alexa-like box on the coffee table, and to the side a 120-inch screen describing the weather, and in a hint of what is to come, the date in the top right-hand corner, Monday 22 Jul 2030.
A dystopian glimpse into the not-so-distant future. Britain is now ‘fully accessible’ and the State benefits system has undergone a radical transformation. Assessors are out in force making sure that all citizens either fully able or ‘differently able’ are ‘helped’ back into work. Dark undertones swirl in Rob Drummond’s playful script and ask some big questions; who owns your body, who controls your mind and how do you solve a problem like the disabled? Big questions which this important new play seeks to answer.
The acting is first rate. Gillian Dean plays Chris and gives a tremendous and entirely believable performance as a forty-something ex-cop slowly sliding into disability. A cruel twist of nature, ‘like a sick practical joke’, has left her with an incurable degenerative disease which is slowly taking away her eyesight and her mobility.
Into her shrinking world she grudgingly has to allow Ralph (Aidan Scott), a twenty-nine-year-old government assessor, who’s by-the-book attidude to assessment draws many nervous laughs from a knowing audience.
This cat-and-mouse world of assessed and assessor is played wonderfully by both actors. As Ralph explains with enthusiasm if Chris passes her assessment, she will be offered a part time job if she achieves 5 points and a full time job ‘immediately!’ if she achieves 10 points.
The title of the play ‘don’t make tea’, is really a piece of advice to avoid scoring 3 unnecessary points; 1 for the independent action of making the tea, 1 for being able to cook hot food for yourself and 1 for offering to carry out an unaided task for others.
There are some very clever twists and turns in this highly original piece, which I have no intention of spoiling. How many points will Chris score, and what will happen when she is told the result of her assessment? You will just have to go and see for yourself!
Director, Robert Softely Gale, together with creative producer, Mairi Taylor and producer Michelle Rolfe should stand up and take a bow, they have produced a little gem of great theatre here which is not just accessible and entertaining to the disabled community but right across the board. This is a real hit which should be widely seen and enjoyed, and which firmly cements BOP as one of the foremost disability led theatre groups in Scotland today.
Running time – 2hrs 15mins (with 15min interval)
Reviewer: Greg Holstead
Reviewed: 5th October 2022
North West End Rating: ★★★★