This is a dynamic, creative, political and responsive work by d/Deaf and disabled performers. A journey through cultures I am delighted to have experienced.
Half way through the first part of the performance, the light is switched off. Darkness.
Deaf poet, Sahera Khan, is signing her earnest verses on video, surtitles moving above her, when a live reader starts uttering the words into the microphone. Different modes of expressions are used to convey the substance of what is said and shown. Suddenly it dawn on you how easy it is to overlook visually impaired people, those with hearing difficulties and even to the like of me, who can see and hear but ignorant of reading sign language and would therefore be unable to appreciate the performance fully.
CRIPtic Arts company, founded by Jamie Hale (he/him) in 2019, has created the Pit Party as a safe space to celebrate disabled/Deaf performance artists. “Accessibility” is of course at the core of the night, and arrangements are made so that every piece can be appreciated by anyone without restrictions on ability (the venue is also entirely accessible to wheelchair users).
The pieces themselves are uncompromising in their point of view: honest creations by d/Deaf or neurodiverse individuals inviting us into their world. They are made accessible TO able audiences, but they don’t make justifying their reality to them a goal.
Jamie Hale says: “There are no tired narratives – there are no hackneyed overcoming… This work is not bound by what people think disabled-led work should be… We are complex, powerful, and yes – challenging. Because this is what we, as disabled people, choose to tell ourselves”.
There’s Miss Jacqui (she/her)wields her voice with true star power from her wheelchair. Surrounded by bubbles and flames, she blends silky sung vocals and spoken word to defiantly affirm the dignity of her experience.
There’s captivating Alice Christina Corrigan (she/her) telling the story of a girl (and her neurodivergent brain Betty) going through a tough break up in a monologue involving live paint smearing (the first time I’ve seen it done onstage without it feeling in the least pretentious).
There’s Jodie Mitchell (they/them) in a monologue by Tom Ryan, who, strong of their ADHD, leads us into the most hilarious yoga class I’ve ever witnessed and ends up toppling capitalism by the end of it (trust me, your mind will expand!)
There is even a sign-language-rap-rave with MC Geezer (he/him) and Troi Lee (he/him) during which the audience is instructed to dance around the aisles signing the track’s hooks.
I apologize to those I have not named. There are simply too many to include all. Each act is beautifully realized, blending digital and live elements in a language that feels truly “now”.
The issues raised are indeed very topical as well: as Jamie Hale reveals, the Barbican is currently the only theatre in London with a disable-access backstage-toilet, and the only possible home for a show like this to exist.
Those looking for a traditional fun night out might feel put off by the rough-and-ready feel. For those with a taste for the experimental and the creative, the Pit Party is very worth it. I left having challenged many of my comfortable assumptions about who Art is for and what Art ought to be.
- Director: Jamie Hale
- The filmed version of the show will be made available on the Barbican website from Friday 26 November.
- Cast includes: Alice Christina-Corrigan, FlawBored, MC Geezer and Troi Lee, Miss Jacqui, Tink Flaherty, Oli Isaac, Sahera Khan, Gold Maria Akanbi, Tom Ryalls performed by Jodie Mitchell.
- The Pit, Barbican
- Until 20th November 2021
- Time: 7.45 p.m. Duration: Approx 2 hours 30 mins, including an interval