Disabled performers and their experiences are absurdly underrepresented in theatre, and much excellent performance therefore remains all but invisible. Fortunately, JOY – HF ArtsFest has established a fantastic showcase featuring disabled artists and providing a stage forThe JOY of Theatre. A highly engaging evening features Sahera Khan performing Am I Dulhan Yet?, Ignite Me Workshop Theatre with Kill the Noise, Elinor Rowlands’ Outside, My Hands are Clapping, and NOT DYING by Jamie Hale.
Sahera Khan is endearing and funny in her mimed piece about Muslim woman seeking a husband, and what happens when a non-Muslim man proposes to her. Her movement is brilliantly bombastic and expressive yet precise, with the occasional involvement of BSL (British Sign Language) and a PowerPoint to emphasise and enhance key moments. But her command of hilarious physicality remains centre stage and at points reminds me of Rowan Atkinson in her skilled timing and sharp mime.Kill the Noise takes a more serious turn and focuses on the issues involved with constantly being shunted around the temporary housing system. Elegant poetry and simple dialogue clash with heavy dubstep and a colourfully shambolic set to bolster the sense of chaos and disorientation felt by Parima, who has just moved into temporary accommodation. Filmed clips of Parima emphatically pause the action on moments such as a ticking clock or a packed suitcase. While the contrasts make it disorientating at points, the piece overall is creative and refreshingly varied.
After the interval, Elinor Rowlands’ performance of poetry is profound, sad and soothingly reflective. She speaks about family history and family trauma in a beautifully mellow and gently self-assured way – interspersing this with evocative film clips accompanied by poetry and music which add emotional depth. She tells us of her grandparents’ and particularly grandmother’s difficult life in Wales and her mother’s conflictingly life-giving and traumatic ordeal experienced when giving birth, lacing in her own experiences growing up with autism and the societal and medical mistreatment lived in each instance. This deeply intimate tale of family history is both personal and yet universal – Rowlands compellingly captures the shared shockwaves of personal trauma and the common bonds of difficulty which leave their deep impressions on a family.Jamie Hale takes adversity in a more deliberately brassy and defiantly comedic direction, which provides an effective and angered contrast. He comes on stage in a hospital bed, covered to the chin by a blanket, and speaks about attitudes towards him and the disabled community – most shockingly about thoughtless comments from people who casually tell him they’d rather be dead than disabled. He leaves the stage and returns in his wheelchair, wearing a silver jacket, sparkly silver Docs, and a tank top with the slogan ‘Piss on Pity’. In an acerbically funny and deeply thought-provoking monologue, he rails against the “polite segregation” experienced by disabled people and powerfully highlights the responsibility of everyone who maintains the society and culture perpetuating this injustice. Hale is a compelling and witty performer who makes you laugh and reflect in equal measure.The JOY of Theatre is a wonderfully multifaceted night of performances which come together to shape an entirely absorbing whole – be sure to catch JOY when it comes back round next year.