BWW Review: STILL NO IDEA, Royal Court
In 2010, Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence created a show called No Idea based entirely on what the general public said they should make a piece of theatre about. The result was an uncomfortable and comic take on how often disabled people are written out of the main narrative, becoming relegated to the sidelines as the main action happens without them.
The pair now return with writer and director Lee Simpson with Still No Idea, another take on the concept of asking other people for ideas for a show. This time set in today's world, which has apparently changed and improved for those who are disabled.
We live in a time of acceptance of disability: 'Superhuman' disabled athletes are celebrated, there is a wheelchair user on Gardener's World and a Bake Off contestant without all her fingers. Lisa herself had a large part on a national soap and overall, the outlook and opportunities are good for disabled people. Or are they?
The show has a casual and improvised feel; you are expecting them to ask for audience suggestions at any moment. However, what follows is a carefully crafted, thought-provoking and wickedly funny production that challenges the myth that things have never been better for disabled people.
Hammond and Spence, in a series of often very funny sketches and songs, act out innocent suggestions from the general public; most have very similar things in common. Hammond in her wheelchair has a 'cheeky face', is naughty and likeable and Spence is shyer, standing at the side. These are boxes that the pair are often put into unconsciously.
When the action gets going it is clear that it is Hammond that is nearly always sidelined, peripheral to the main action taken on by Spence. This is was the case in 2010 and is still the case now. The only part where Hammond gets the main role is revealed to have been suggested by disabled people. It is a poignant moment.
But surely more visibility on screen can only be a positive thing? Hammond explores her time at the unnamed soap, a job that she won as a non-disabled part. She reveals that through the years she begged for her own storylines, but this was repeatedly delayed and put off inexplicably. The producers, writers and commissioners are not disabled themselves and think they need to write a specific 'disabled' storyline for her, rather than just a storyline for her as a character, as an actor.
Even Channel 4 comes under fire for its right-on 'Superhumans' promos for the Paralympics, with Hammond explaining that being disabled did not mean she could automatically swim like Ellie Simmonds. The message was of an impossible version of disability and projected a myth that acceptance of disability has been achieved.
What is clever about the show is that it challenges all your preconceptions about society's attitude today about disability. As an able-bodied person, it seems that that visibility of disability on screen has increased and representation has happened. After all, it would have been unthinkable ten years ago to have a children's TV presenter with only one arm or a Strictly Come Dancing contestant with no lower legs. Surely acceptance has been achieved?
At the heart of the show is a dark message of the challenges that disabled people come up against in simply living everyday life. Sobering stories of suicide due to benefit cuts are projected onto the back of the stage and the Department for Work and Pensions is singled out as the evil culprit.
Hammond and Spence are a great double act and you can feel the warmth between them. Both are talented actors who do not preach, but present and explain in a irreverent and open manner. This is a deceptively simple, touching and moving show that will challenge everyone who is lucky enough to see it.
Photo Credit: Camilla Greenwell