“If you are capable of killing and disposing of a body, can you really call yourself disabled?”
There are many Scotland-based theatre companies whose productions effortlessly delight and challenge their audiences, but none so encapsulate their political vision for the theatre (and the world) throughout their practice quite like Birds of Paradise. The premier disability-led theatre company has, in Don’t. Make. Tea. by Rob Drummond, put humanity (and humour) into an issue that so often forgets the people it’s trying to help, namely the Disability Benefits debate.
Set in 2030, the play opens on Chris Dunlop’s living room, a proud woman whose worsening eyesight and mobility has forced her to claim from Disability Benefits. Most notably sits Able, an electronic friend and helper (think Alexa but more thorough and hi-tech), on her coffee table who cleverly audio describes all the happenings of the room from Chris wiping away make up to the reading on her electricity meter. Enter Ralph, the bumbling, handsome, and irritatingly positive government official sent to assess Chris’s disability. In this new imagined Britain, the ‘Accessible Britain Scheme’ has been implemented: a points-based system “not based on condition but on one’s ability to work”. As it becomes clear that this system that Ralph vehemently believes in will ultimately strip Chris of her benefits, and with it her ability to survive, Chris resorts to desperate measures.
Rob Drummond’s wit shines throughout, despite some didactic lulls, and successfully plays with both tone and style to flip the audiences’ expectations. The ensemble works beautifully together with Aidan Scott and Nicola Chegwin giving notably dynamic performances. Neil John Gibson and Emery Hunter’s hilarity in the second half is utterly delightful (in my notes I wrote one word: fabulous!). And Gillian Dean grounds the show in sincerity and strength as Chris Dunlop, successfully exploring the full weight and breadth of her story.
But the true star of the show is Birds of Paradise’s ability to creatively weave BSL, audio description and closed captioning into the very fabric of the play, and by doing so, sticking it to an industry and culture that either forgets that disabled people exist or shuns them to the very fringes. It’s hard to think of a production that has realized this level of integration so sublimely and acts as a challenge to the industry for future productions to follow. Towards the end of the second act, the question is asked “What do we do with disabled people?”. Birds of Paradise has and continues to answer that very question: put disabled people at the very center of their stories, celebrate their essential contributions to theatre and to the world and for Godot’s sakes, make theatre accessible!
Don’t. Make. Tea.: 5th-8th Oct, The Traverse Theatre, 19:30
Image photographed by Andy Caitlin, provided to The Student via Press Release.