Graeae highlight the injustices incurred by disabled veterans from the First World War as well as the men and women affected by more recent conflicts, in an epic outdoor production. Working with the National Centre for Circus Arts, Graeae has trained 25 disabled veterans in performance especially for the piece. Review by Natasha Sutton-Williams
The statement by a war veteran that “It is better to come back dead than come back disabled” was the stimulus for Graeae’s decision to make theatre with disabled veterans. 14-18 NOW and Blesma (the limbless veterans charity) have co-commissioned this outdoor theatre piece to create a ‘living memory’ of those who came back disabled from the horrors of WW1, and as a rallying call for those who have been disabled by wars since, who are simply asking not be to overlooked or dismissed by society.
A cohort of disabled veterans, paralympians and choral singers gave life to This Is Not For You at a performance at GDIF on 30 June & 1 July.
In a series of vignettes this regiment of performers explore the experiences of a nation of characters over the last hundred years who have been affected by the injuries of war. Through song, movement and physical theatre they express the drama of real people’s lives and the affects of war long after the throes of battle are over.
At the start of the show there is a particularly moving sequence where the performers march in formation, facing outwards to the audience, shouting their name and impairment caused by warfare, while simultaneously hand-signing. They wear their injuries printed on their uniforms so they can be permanently displayed throughout the action.
Graeae has once again creatively integrated audio description and sign language into every element of the production. One effective scene that explored the frustration and loss of connection between loved ones after returning from war is expressed by two performers silently illustrating an arguing married couple; behind each character is a BSL interpreter signing from the husband and wife’s perspective; behind the interpreters are two performers in wheelchairs who speak into microphones, embodying the voices of the characters.
Complex yet simple, this scene beautifully encapsulates the ingenuity and theatricality which is readily available when theatre-makers use creative integration, or as Graeae terms it ‘the aesthetics of access’.
Ambitious and dextrous choreography is used throughout the piece, with wheelchair users weaving in and out of large metal scaffolding structures while amputees acrobatically climb, spin, somersault and hang from them. These metal structures are in constant motion, becoming cages, coffins, trunks and trenches.
I came away wishing I had heard more about the personal stories of the disabled veterans who were performing on stage. However there is no doubt the story of war victims over the past hundred years creates a huge emotional impact. During the finale many of the audience members and even performers have tears in their eyes, as the full cast sing expressing the significance of not being forgotten and still being alive.
This Is Not For You highlights the injustices these men and women have gone through. They have served and lost limbs for their country, yet when they return the very people who sent them to war will not acknowledge their sacrifice.
Although society may have forgotten about these individuals, the audience are not going to forget them any time soon. This Is Not For You proves that these warriors will not be stifled; they will fight to the end to tell their story and be heard.
This Is Not For You will be performed at Stockton Arts Festival on 2 & 3 August. For more information, please visit Graeae’s website.