Tuesday, July 16

Don’t. Make. Tea. – Traverse Theatre

In a near future in which government attitudes to disability have supposedly been revolutionised, Chris (Gillian Dean), a former police detective now facing a deteriorating condition, receives a visit from Ralph (Neil John Gibson) to “check” whether she is indeed entitled to benefits. But their competing agendas are clearly mutually exclusive: if displays and white lies are not enough, then how far must Chris go to get what she needs?

A dark comedy written by Rob Drummond and directed by Robert Softley Gale, Don’t. Make. Tea. tackles many of the issues of current attitudes towards disability.

As with many stories set in the future, the applicability is clearly in the here and now rather than the impossible. Many of Ralph’s slogans, repetitions and little tricks clearly struck a chord with the audience, with responses suggesting not only sympathy but also recognition of Chris’s plight. When the more thriller aspects of the show take over, these subjects only become more overt, thanks to the character of Jude (Nicola Chegwin) whose very name is a wry joke on a symbol which contrasts with its outlook. As both a wheelchair-user and a powerful figure of the new system, through her the show can directly question her attitudes without ever twirling-moustache-strawman her, Ralph having already sufficiently awoken the sense of injustice and hypocrisy of the system Jude looks after and defends.

The show takes its ethos on accessibility right into its format. All performances are captioned, with BSL interpretation and audio description integrated into the script. It’s a tired cliché these days to call an important aspect of a show that isn’t an actor (isn’t that… most of them?) “Almost a character in the show”, but here the audio description and sign language features are literal characters in the show. They go from references in dialogue to flesh-and-blood human beings, Francis and Able, played by the motherly Emery Hunter and Richard Conlon (if Robin Williams played an Alexa), who interact with the lead. This makes becoming in itself a display of inclusivity that contrasts with Ralph’s empty words, and a call for compassion echoed even by the songs playing over the audience’s entrance and interval.

Of course, this also gives Chris people to interact with in moments of solitude, a dramatic device in-of-itself which allows for added layers of humour and communication during dramatic moments. The entire cast play both aspects beautifully, Gillian Dean being both sympathetic and strong as a woman driven to her limit, Neil John Gibson as the often-punishable but human face of a deeply flawed and dishonest system, Emery Hunter juggling (almost literally) the needs to convey the entire show while also being a part of it physically and emotionally, Richard Conlon as an Alexa played (metaphorically) by Robin Williams, and Nicola Chegwin as the show’s added fly-in-the-ointment.

The show’s marriage of theme and plot adds to the appeal of the show, and gets the audience fully involved in the plight of the characters as events become increasingly desperate and darkly farcical. The sloganeering is Ralph’s, not the show’s, and the audience’s response is emotional, as it should be. To say it is more than a dark comedy would be reductive. In fact, it is a very good dark comedy you might get something else out of too.

Reviewer: Oliver Giggins

Reviewed: 21st March 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.