Glasgow-based Birds of Paradise Theatre Company is arguably Scotland’s most innovative and ground-breaking theatre company when it comes to exploring disability and producing fully-integrated performances. This can be experienced clearly enough in Johnny McKnight’s Wendy Hoose, a delightfully rude sex comedy in which Jake from Paisley (James Young) arrives at the Cumbernauld flat of Laura (Amy Conachan) in the hope of some no-strings sex – which, of course, doesn’t quite go according to either’s plans.
I know at least one thing I want: lots more of this kind of vibrant, optimistic theatre!
Unlike most productions, where attempts to meet the needs of audience members with physical or sensory impairments are obvious add-ons, accessibility is built into this co-production, with Glasgow-based Random Accomplice, from the ground up. Indeed, it forms a vital part of the whole presentation. Having ‘surtitles’ above the set may not be that uncommon these days, but this show’s use of emoticons, animated symbols and font-changes to underscore particular points certainly is. Meanwhile, a British Sign Language interpreter is suitably incorporated into the scene, visible on Laura’s sound-turned-down bedroom television. The undoubted masterstroke, however, is the decision to let everyone hear the somewhat snobbish Audio-Describer, who essentially becomes an unseen third character begrudgingly describing what’s happening on stage, even though she clearly finds it all generally unbecoming for someone who was privately educated.
This slightly edited version of the show – for obvious Fringe reasons, it comes in at under an hour – has never a wasted moment: the humour is razor-sharp, but McKnight is also willing to seriously examine the realities of first impressions, the vocabulary of class (particularly within Scottish society) and the ephemeral, ‘smoke but no fire’ context of so-called dating apps and text conversations. Obviously, too, it doesn’t shy away from the realities of disabled people’s lives, and the fact that most disabled adults want to – and do – have sex, with all the likely consequences shared by non-disabled people.
Conachan and Young have now been with this show for quite a while, which is both an advantage and disadvantage; yes, they know these characters inside out and share an obvious chemistry on stage, which certainly helps sell the idea that Laura and Jake could have something special if they only tried. Yet the actors’ familiarity with each other also slightly undercuts those initial scenes where it’s all about nerves and the inherent ridiculousness of dirty talk – he with that notable bulge in his £120 skinny jeans, she with several bottles of red wine in the fridge.
“Nobody knows what they want any more,” complains Jake, during one of those touching, intimate moments with Laura as he waits for his taxi back to Paisley. Well, I know at least one thing I want: lots more of this kind of vibrant, optimistic theatre!