Bella Freak: Unwritten

Unwritten, according to the flyer, is ‘a secret history of Scotland’; specifically, though, it uses the individual experiences of three disabled people to talk about Inclusive Education. It’s listed in the Fringe programme under Theatre (albeit with the caveat of ‘true-life’); yet it’s closer in form to Spoken Word: three people on an empty stage, talking straight at us with a minimum of theatrical effects in terms of writing and presentation.

There will likely be few shows on the Fringe with more authenticity than this.

Stark? Certainly. Shocking? Occasionally. Memorable? Undoubtedly. There will likely be few shows on the Fringe with more authenticity than this. These are succinct, emotional stories of real lives, told by those who have lived them. They are people who learned by experience that ‘Special’ can be another word for ‘Second Class’. Until all-too-recently, ‘Special’ (ie, Disabled) people would vanish, into ‘Special’ schools and institutions. Policy has changed since the 1980s, but it’s debatable whether mainstream education even now is anywhere near as ‘inclusive’ as it should be when it comes to anti-bullying, child protection and disability.

Sasha Callaghan and Stuart Pyper are graduates of the MA Creative Writing at Edinburgh Napier University, while David Nicol has performed in many shows by Edinburgh-based arts company ACTive INquiry. Callaghan’s stately delivery, of her childhood conversations with ‘the Dead’, seamlessly shifts back and forth between amusing—“The Dead are notoriously unreliable.”—and disturbing. With Pyper there is a sharper edge; not least because the adult diagnosis of his Autism is essentially proof that it should have been diagnosed earlier. Nicol, meantime, seems more matter-of-fact about how his varied experiences at school made him who he is.

While there’s a clear structure to their show—with a repeated emphasis on them supposedly being ‘Special’—Callaghan, Pyper and Nicol don’t come to any definitive conclusion; after all, they’re still living their lives. Given current austerity-driven government policies, they’re not exactly optimistic, but haven’t given up on being who they are—and being accepted for that. Not as ‘Special’; just everyday, like everyone else—even if they’re performing on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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The Blurb

Three memoirs of disability. Three histories of a nation. The boy without superpowers. The girl who spoke to the dead. The man who broke chains. Unwritten collects the poignant, but often comical, true-life stories of three disabled individuals with wide-ranging impairments, placing them in cultural and historical contexts from the Act of Union to the 21st century as a fundamental part of Scotland's national story. Unwritten is produced by Disability History Scotland/Bella Freak with support from the HLF. The show is written and performed by Sasha Callaghan, David Nicol and Stuart Pyper. Directed by Sara-Jane McGeachy.