It has become traditional for Lung Ha Theatre Company – Scotland’s principal theatre group for people with learning disabilities – to present at least one large show every year that gives a role of some importance to every member of the ensemble. This is by no means an easy task, requiring both a script and a performance space capable of supporting nearly 20 performers of varying abilities and mobility. Nevertheless, such has been the quality of Lung Ha’s recent work, under the nuanced guidance of Artistic Director Maria Oller, that the company now finds itself welcomed on some of Scotland’s most important stages, including Glasgow’s Tron Theatre and Edinburgh’s Traverse.
While a few performers’ movements are somewhat stilted, Janis Claxton’s choreography overall is effective, with several cast members excelling in their own little character-defining moments.
Set within a sponsored silence in a school hall, in a remarkably realistic set designed by Jessica Brettle, the action launches with Nicola Tuxworth’s Billie being ejected after six minutes for unthinkingly saying “Bless You” when her boyfriend Arthur [Lung Ha stalwart Stephan Tate] sneezed. She decides, in anger, to undermine the whole endeavour – despite the fact that the sponsored silence is actually intended to raise funds for her own ill mother.
What follows is essentially an hour of physical escapades in which Tuxworth and a lone accomplice attempt to ruin friendships and frustrate relationships by stealing people’s hats, lottery-winning scratch cards, and packets of biscuits. Further confusion is caused by the repeatedly unexpected arrival of four workmen [led by Mark Howie, sadly denied his usual opportunity to land a few verbal punchlines], distinctive in their high visibility jackets and bowler hats. Their presence in the room at first appears somewhat arbitrary and sometimes meandering, though (of course) this proves not to be the case later on.
While a few performers’ movements are somewhat stilted, Janis Claxton’s choreography overall is effective, with several cast members excelling in their own little character-defining moments. Everyone, however, is aided by M J McCarthy’s almost hypnotic score, with its continuous, clock-based rhythms and overt tonal shifts to denote characters and mood. The result is an entertaining hour that, while not necessarily crystal clear in its dramatic intent, at least avoids the innate cruelty of slapstick and concludes with an upbeat moment that leaves a smile on everyone’s faces.