As Unlimited Festival at Southbank Centre appears on the horizon, questions and debates about representation and work that is led by disabled and D/deaf artists also surface. I welcome these interventions, particularly when those interviewed are disabled and D/deaf artists themselves. I know this seems like an obvious requirement for discussion around diversity and representation, but this has not always been the case… (Cue the many articles and soundbites from self-selected ‘experts’ or spokespeople who weren’t the gender, faith, sexual persuasion or cultural heritage that they espouse about…)
Nina Mühlemann’s piece for the British Council is refreshing in its approach and includes interviews with many of the artists involved in the forthcoming Unlimited Festival, myself included. Her main question of how can we avoid stereotyping disabled artists? is very close to the task I have set myself in my work: How can I challenge, satirise or subvert the stereotypical disabled characters that haunt our stages and screens?
And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues sets out to explore, excavate and expose what have often been hidden stories about difference. Inspired by interviews with D/deaf and disabled people my Singapore collaborator Peter Sau and his team led, plus the conversations I have held for over a decade in the UK, the fictional monologues smash the cliches and problematic representations usually manacled to characters who happen to be disabled. Here are figures who are funny, sexy, troubled, ambitious, foolish, in love, manipulative, learned, tenacious…. human. Gone are the tragic but brave tropes, the tortured villains, inspiring over-comers, or helpless figures of pity.
Gone, too, is the inaccessible staging. Rather, in Phillip Zarrilli’s production, we embrace complex, multi-lingual storytelling, using live action as well as film. The show isn’t about access, it’s about the innovative use of theatre languages – mixing visual and spoken storytelling in dynamic form, interweaving English with some Mandarin, Cantonese, Welsh and British Sign language sequences. There’s no static sign language interpreter in the corner of the stage, but live and pre-recorded sequences that tell little-known stories physically and visually, with creative captioning throughout.
The company is a combination of Singapore and UK-based performers – and our Singapore team arrive tomorrow! We have a few days rehearsal to revise and incorporate two new company members into the production: Garry Robson and Macsen McKay (who writes on his debut here). I’ve also written new monologues for these guest actors, reflecting the joys and tribulations of lived experience in the UK.
We open Unlimited Festival at Southbank, then go on a short tour, dates below. We hope very much you will come and share some time and a space with us, as we celebrate all the possibilities of being human.