Still No Idea by Lisa Hammond, Lee Simpson and Rachael Spence
***** (5 stars)
I can’t get that refrain out of my head – cheeky face, cheeky face – as I come out of the Traverse and head for home after an evening which challenged, moved, frustrated and angered me as Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence invited us to join them on an expedition to find the material for a new show, the results of which they presented to us in a mixture of styles and formats that had us both laughing and crying – crying not with laughter but with frustration that, despite anything anyone may think or say about how “it’s so much easier/ so much better/ things are more equal” for people with disabilities, the demoralising fact is that things are much, much worse than they were ten years ago…
The loudest laughs came from the audience members with mobility issues – laughing as they recognise the situations in which they so often find themselves, and the constant struggle to be seen as a person, not as a disability: to be taken seriously, given real parts to play in the world, not sidelined, patronised or spoken to in a special voice Wow! didn’t she do well…
So many of the suggestions made by members of the public when asked to suggest characters or plot lines arose from embarrassment and/or an inability to see Rachael and Lisa as two people of equal worth and importance, who might equally play a central character rather than an also-ran. Cheeky face exquisitely highlighted the way people’s discomfort is expressed in a cheery bonhomie – you don’t know what to say to someone in a wheelchair and so try to wrap it in what is thought to be humour – here comes trouble! or my you’ve got a cheeky face: I bet you’re a barrel of laughs: i.e. don’t try to engage with a real live adult human being, treat them as you might an engaging puppy or a bouncy toddler.
And this in an age which prides itself on an equal society which doesn’t hide disabled people away… But what good is celebrating the successes of paralympians if it makes people think that every disabled person ‘ought’ to be able to do what they can? What sort of society do we live in when people who are seen walking as they transfer themselves from one wheelchair to another are insulted and called scroungers and benefit cheats? What sort of government proposes policies based on kicking away their crutches will make them stronger??
Under all the humour there’s an anger and a despair that our current society is so hostile to people with disabilities that they are led to commit suicide rather than continue the struggle against unjustly reduced or discontinued benefits, and sometimes die of their medical condition before their appeal has been heard or dealt with.
What can be done? Laugh rather than cry; try to see people as human beings rather than ‘conditions’; imagine the hero or heroine of your favourite novel, play, tv series or film as someone with a disability – see them as central to the action rather than as a bit player or moving wallpaper – in short, try to create the picture of a world in which there is equality of opportunity for everyone.
Still No Idea has toured extensively in England: the Traverse gig is the sole Scottish appearance. Don’t miss it – and be prepared to have a good laugh while having all your comfortable notions turned upside down.
Still No Idea by Lisa Hammond, Lee Simpson and Rachael Spence, Traverse Theatre Edinburgh, run ends 9th November for tickets go to: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/still-no-idea