Battersea Arts Centre is a venue that can be trusted to put on shows that challenge, excite and entertain. This show – devised by Australian group, Back to Back Theatre – was created by a group of learning disabled people and uses the format of a group meeting to explore both the characters of the three participants and some of the issues that learning disabled people experience. The show is challenging, funny, disconcerting, and sad in equal measure. No single drama can do justice to the wide and varying experience of learning disabled people but, in this sixty minute show, Back to Back do an extraordinary job of bringing home to their audience some of the key prejudices and presumptions that this group faces.
The meeting format does not need a plot but as the performance progresses we do get to know the three characters better and to appreciate their particular strengths and weaknesses and the way they annoy and support each other. Sarah enters first pushing a trolley with a set of chairs – she lacks confidence and turns down the chance to speak from the lectern but her insights into the injustices of the world in which she and her friends live are telling . Simon is measured and precise and tries to ensure the group stays united. He wants the meeting to produce tangible results. Scott is angry and blusters but his yearning for change and for a world where learning disabled people are valued for themselves drives the latter part of the performance.
A range of themes drive the show. We begin with a discussion about unwanted physical contact and sexual harassment. There is a section about the importance of naming things correctly – in the context of Australian attitudes to aboriginal peoples. It is worth noting here that developing acceptable “labels” for people like Sarah Simon and Scott is in itself a matter of controversy in the various communities of learning disabled people. In this review I use one term which not all members of all the communities find acceptable. Neurodiverse is a term that seems to be gaining in acceptability. In Australia the preferred term is, I understand, people with intellectual or cognitive disabilities.
Later in the play we are asked to consider whether the mechanisms driven by Artificial Intelligence will eventually mean that all of us are relegated to the status of second-class citizens.
There is virtually no scenery – the chairs, the trolley, and large white block that becomes the front of a speaker’s podium. But above the stage is an electronic signboard which at first seems just a conventional way of helping the audience understand the words being spoken but – as the performance develops – we realise that it has a life of its own.
The Shadow is a very remarkable piece of drama – not an easy watch and sometimes mystifying – but it is driven by three performances of sincerity and power and by a creative collective that has an important set of messages that need spreading. After Battersea Arts Centre, the show moves to Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts Leicester and to Leeds Playhouse.
- Authors: Michael Chan, Mark Deans, Bruce Gladwin, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, Sonia Teuben
- Director: Bruce Gladwin
- Photo Credit: Kira Kynd.
- Performers: Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price
- Venue: Battersea Arts Centre, London
- Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (no interval)