It’s as though Covid-19 has made not yet-disabled theatregoers and theatremakers suddenly wake up to how many barriers have faced disabled theatre lovers and makers, and the extraordinary effort required to access the theatre either to see shows or make them. Why did it take so long?
Of course, better understanding often leads to more permanent change, and theatre is going to need to make big changes to ensure that as theatres open up, they welcome more disabled artists into their rehearsal rooms, and find ways to do it which provides the conditions they require and guarantees the safety they need. This will necessitate good listening and consultation, and it will require money. Without those things, theatres won't ever really change.
Anyone who has followed the work of disabled-led company Graeae and companies such as Candoco and the increasing number of smaller scale outfits like Little Cog, will know the breadth and depth of talent of disabled actors, directors, writers and theatre-makers. The recent Unlimited Festival demonstrated that too.
Now Graeae is launching a second series of Crips Without Constraints, with a new play being released every Tuesday over the next five weeks. The opener is Kellan Frankland’s How Do You Make a Cup of Tea, a two hander which neatly skewers the notions that not-yet-disabled have about disabled people, and the prevalence of “cripping up” in theatre and film. We only have to look to the recent Sia casting debacle to show that some people think that’s still as okay as when Daniel Day Lewis played Christy Brown in My Left Foot way back in 1989.
Mandy Colleran is very funny as Frankie, an experienced disabled actor, who is being consulted by Sally (Harriet Walter) who has been cast as Emily, a disabled character in a play. “I’m just doing my job,” says Sally when challenged. “It’s an actor’s job to play someone they are not.”
It’s an argument that often get rehearsed in issues surrounding casting, whether it's about learning disabled or physically disabled characters. Sally’s argument that it was not her decision is quickly blown apart as Frankie points out that being complicit in bad decisions makes you responsible. The piece is good too on the way the not-yet-disabled expect the disabled to educate them.
Stephen Bailey’s production has a nice surreal touch, David Young brings a comic edge to “the voice-over guy”, and Walter neatly plays up the increasing madness of the situation, and Sally’s self-absorption and assumptions. Oh and do wait for the final credits, which squeeze the pips from the lemon very nicely.
Crips Without Constraints runs until Tue 16 Feb. You can watch the plays here.