It’s always easy to be sceptical about a one-man or one-woman show, as holding the attention of an audience on your own is no easy task. However, Sonya Kelly’s engaging and exciting delivery of her memoir about growing up with poor eyesight is delivered with perfect clarity. The Wheelchair on my Face is an autobiographical piece narrated by Kelly, a comedian and actor. She leads us through the problems and embarrassment of growing up with not one teacher or her parents realising that she was severely short sighted and the absolute horror of being fitted with her first, thick, bottle end pair of glasses. All she wanted was to have sunglasses - that’s what popstars wore anyway.
Set against a wonderful array of Abba songs - her favourite band as a child, and sight-related numbers (I Can See Clearly Now) this show is a brilliant mix of touching stories and amusing anecdotes, which are mostly used to soften the blow of the moving retelling of some upsetting moments in Kelly’s life. As a child, she was known as ‘very affectionate,’ simply because she would have to hug everything just to get close enough to see what it really looked like. Isolated from schoolmates and obsessed with Abba, she entered her own imaginary world where she and the band lived happily together in the comfort of her wardrobe. The audience are swept along by Kelly’s humorous and captivating storytelling. Each anecdote had us drawn in, eager to know how little Sonya faired in a world that seemed to be totally against her, a world where she’d bump into lampposts and say ‘oh excuse me.’
The story works so well because it is balanced beautifully between light-heartedness and real pain and confusion. The subject matter is quite distressing; I found myself saddened and appalled that it took a school medical examination for someone to realise that Kelly wasn’t just an awkward girl who was a bit slow and found it hard to concentrate, but rather had severe myopia. Kelly never directly blames her parents or her school for this, which keeps the story endearing and never feels like an attempt to tug on your heartstrings. It is what it is - how little Sonya saw, or didn’t quite see the world aged seven. It is told very convincingly from a child’s perspective, which felt refreshing and original.
At odd points the show lacked pace, some of the stories holding our attention more than others. However, Kelly soon picked up the energy, and by the end of the show I was dabbing tears of sadness and laughter from my eyes. Kelly embodies a little girl so perfectly you forget you’re watching a fully grown woman. This show is a must-see and a real gem. Touching, uplifting, and wonderfully told.