It’s hard to think of many pieces of work where actors with disabilities are lead actors and even less so where they have roles that offer them much more.
This powerful piece was devised by Australian people with disabilities working with Back to Back Theatre in Geelong. It’s performed by three actors with different intellectual disabilities (the term used in their native land) and is a breath of fresh air as it makes the audience understand them as people with the same hopes, dreams and faults as anyone else as they explore what true equality might look like.
Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring and Scott Price have called a public meeting ostensibly to discuss what a civic society might look like, but soon turns into a passionate debate about what it means to be seen as just a disabled person, and society’s fear of the other, or things we don’t understand.
Simon is the calm voice of reason trying to keep the peace between hot headed Simon, who is proud of his autism but well aware that it distances him from many people, and Sarah who is having a crisis of confidence at addressing the public.
All three of them are united in wanting change, but differ in how they might achieve it, drawing them into rows and unfiltered discourse. The fourth presence onstage is a Siri style device projecting their words onto a screen forcing Sarah to tell the Artificial Intelligence to ‘fuck off’, and that it’s patronising. She’s dead right as you don’t get that very often in theatre, and are we so lazy that we can’t pay attention to people who communicate differently?
During the meeting Scott manhandles a speaker podium onto the stark stage where he offers a poignant speech about the way disabled people have been marginalised, exploited experimented on and murdered by totalitarian regimes who despise difference to the point of exterminating it.
Clearly a nice middle-class audience in Leeds isn’t going to be party to any of that, but all three performers force them to think how complicit we all can be in not supporting our fellow citizens to have genuine choice and control over their lives.
The fact that this piece is based on lived experience gives it a rawness that at times isn’t that subtle, but it’s at least honest. It’s not just a moaning session as there are plenty of laughs along the way as the performers make sly digs at the audience, and a society that they are so often outside of.
There is a real twist as Simon mulls over the pace of technological changes where one day artificial intelligence may overtake humanity at the top of the food chain. In Simon’s vision only then will those who aren’t intellectually challenged know what it is like to feel inferior, underpaid, marginalised, assaulted or mocked. There won’t be a more powerful argument for tolerance and social justice made in this space all year.
This production was brought from down under by local producers Transform who have made it their business to bring challenging work from across the globe to Yorkshire. This may be the best thing they’ve supported because when you walk out the door the liberal sensitivities you think you hold have been well and truly challenged by three people telling their own truths.
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 3rd November 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★