Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence uncover attitudes towards disability

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Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence shine a spotlight on prejudices against disabled people in their latest touring production ‘Still No Idea‘. Review by Natasha Sutton-WIlliams

two young performers dressed in bright shirts address an audience

Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence. Photo © Camilla Greenwell

Actors Lisa Hammond, Rachael Spence and their director Lee Simpson have created a genuinely innovative show using verbatim, improvisation, comedy gags and musical numbers. With these tools they pierce the notion that the world has changed it’s perceptions towards disabled people, and that we are living in an equal opportunities society.

This is not new territory for these two theatre-makers. In 2010 they created No Idea. Inspired by the fact they wanted to make a show together, but had no idea what the story should be, they took to the streets and asked the public, ‘What sort of play would we be in? What sort of characters would we play?’ What these questions revealed was staggering.

The stories the public invented all focussed on Spence (able bodied), leaving Hammond (disabled) to occasionally make an appearance. These ‘stories’ from 2010 were presented in a variety of side-splitting sketches – quick to deconstruct them, exposing the public’s unrelenting bias towards able-bodied characters.

Eight years have passed since No Idea was first performed at the Young Vic and toured the UK, Egypt and Syria. One would think that perceptions towards disabled people might have improved with time. Hammond and Spence went out again to speak to the public to see if Hammond might get more of a starring role in 2018. What they found was even more alarming than the first time round.

Still No Idea vehemently argues that though it seems like society has welcomed disabled people into the fold, the complete opposite is occurring. Representation is simply that: representation. Disabled characters aren’t getting a voice or a story.

Hammond and Spence play out a ‘fictitious’ scene where Hammond gets a part playing a ‘non disabled role’ on Eastenders. Over the course of five years appearing on the show, Hammond is told repeatedly that she will be given a proper storyline. But it never occurs. The best the Eastenders writer can come up with is a montage scene that follows Hammond’s empty wheelchair around London.

There is a particularly moving section where Hammond divulges her inner most thoughts on her personal experience of injustice, “I don’t want change ‘for the children of our future’ I want change for me now. Ten years ago everyone was in agreement that it was shit and the world wasn’t ready to imagine stories with us in them – and however shit that felt – it made sense ‘cause everyone could admit that. Nowadays it’s like they all look at you and say, ‘You’re visible, it’s done… stop moaning’ but it’s so not done.” Hammond distils the idea that in reality, even creative allies (who believe disabled people should have equal rights and be equally represented) don’t help when it comes to the practicalities of placing disabled characters at the forefront of narratives.

Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence pictured on stage

Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence. Photo © Camilla Greenwell

Gliding from irreverence to hilarity to bleakness and back again, there is a casual nattering with the audience as if Hammond and Spence are having a nice cuppa with you in your living room. But don’t be fooled, they have perfected the art of nonchalance with hard graft, having worked together for years with theatre company Improbable.

Hammond and Spence have recently formed a new artistic partnership called Bunny; their manifesto is to create work that gets people talking. They certainly achieve their goal with Still No Idea, which provokes the audience not only to start talking about disability, but to keep thinking about how to improve perceptions long after the show is over.

Still No Idea plays at the Royal Court, London until 17 November | tickets here

Accessibility:
Captioned: Thu 8 Nov & Wed 14 Nov
Audio Described: Sat 10 Nov
BSL interpreted: Thu 15 Nov