Birds of Paradise’s new musical is a hysterical and at times incredibly thoughtful production that takes a wry and insightful poke at the state of inclusion in modern theatre and how we view disability in the media and society.
By the final number many members of the audience were giving a standing ovation and it is easy to see why
My Left/Right Foot follows a dysfunctional amateur dramatics group who, hoping to gain an advantage in the upcoming one act play competition, decide to stage an adaptation of the story of Christy Brown: an Irish man with several cerebral palsy who was immortalised by Daniel Day Lewis in the film adaptation of his life. As the group struggles to get to grips with tale they enlist the help of the local theatre technician Chris, who has C.P. himself, to help make the production more “real”. Soon the cast has to grapple with issues of ableism, disability, and what it really means to be inclusive in modern times.
From the above description it’s easy to see how this show could be controversial. It touches on several hot button issues that have come to dominate the arts, such as the role of the disabled performers, who has the right to tell the stories of marginalised communities, and what are the responsibilities that come with that right? Rather than tip-toeing around these issues the production dives right in and is incredibly brave in allowing its characters to make mistakes and come off as truly clueless and offensive. It is in showing the messiness and difficulties that come with grappling with these weighty important issues that the play creates a real sense of empathy with its protagonists and makes their growth by the show's end seem all the more honest and well earned.
Their attention to the important themes at play is never, however, allowed get in the way of the show’s entertainment value, far from it. The production expertly weaves it’s high energy and hysterical musical numbers into its biting satire, in outrageous moments of musical comedy that had the audience howling with laughter from moment to moment. All of this achieved through an incredible cast that bring seemingly limitless amounts of energy and a commitment to making of a fool of themselves to the stage. Special mention must go to John McLarnon’s show-stopping portrayal of the company’s leading actor and diva Grant, whose exuberant flamboyance and over the top antics were a highlight in every scene.
This is all accompanied by a wonderfully well executed lighting and sound design that aided in setting the mood and grounding each song in its own world of emotional melodrama and comedy turmoil.
By the final number many members of the audience were giving a standing ovation and it is easy to see why. My Left/Right Foot is an incredibly bold and beautifully realised musical that is able to be both an intelligent take down of the ableism inherent in much of the arts whilst still being a rollicking good night out.