One of a series of seven one-night-stands of experimental theatre, How Disabled Are You? is curated by theatre co-operative Spun Glass Theatre under the heading of The Spark Factory. This is an appealing concept, allowing impoverished companies to share the cost of venue hire and registration at Fringe Festivals. And perhaps, it is the shape of things to come as the number of Fringe shows increases and companies fight ever harder for a slice of the potential audience on any given night.
A show with its heart in the right place.
How Disabled Are You? by The Queer Historian has the feel of a work in progress, and entertains an interesting premise. Three female performers, all of whom self-define as disabled, sit in dressing gowns around a table laden with magazines and a stack of white bread. Some of these women have not performed previously. They proceed to open brown envelopes, designed to look like letters from the DSS, and sight-read the genuine, oral testimonies of three women. The first is a woman who has distanced herself from the benefits cycle in which she lived as a child - a Daily Mail reader who resents those who claim benefits; the second is a woman of a certain age who does not vote, is not interested in politics and whose racism is barely conscious; the third is the testimony of a woman who works in a Benefits Office and welcomes the implementation of sweeping cuts to disability benefits in order to eliminate scroungers. As we listen to these three interpolated testimonies, the women peruse their magazines, and prepare a mountain of unhealthy-looking ham sandwiches.
So far so good. Here is a show with its heart in the right place. The problem is that sight-reading is a tricky skill, even for an experienced actor. Inexperienced or novice actors find it very difficult. Such was the case here, at times, and the performance would have been much improved had the performers been more familiar with the material. Although the testimonies were of interest it was sometimes difficult to follow what was being said. This was partly because they were authentic, original testimonies and not transposed, easy-to-read versions. While this is laudable for being in line with authentic documentary praxis, there was little that was new or surprising, and nothing that has not been said better, and more powerfully, by Ken Loach’s film I, Daniel Blake.