“Gotta go – I’ve got a sourdough in the oven” – middle-class suburbia shunts against the stark realities of shielding in Little Cog’s latest lockdown film Funny Peculiar. Review by Kate Lovell.
Four disabled women talk candidly about their most private feelings, fears and desires during the coronavirus lockdown in a new drama written and directed by the inimitable Vici Wreford-Sinnott. Now into its tenth year, Little Cog continues to innovate and lead the sector with representation of oft forgotten – or truthfully, always overlooked – voices in circumstances where society has shut them down.
There’s no doubt that disabled people, particularly those who have been forced to shield for the majority of 2020 with no end in sight, have been muted during the pandemic. So thank goodness for Little Cog and Wreford-Sinnott, rolling up their sleeves and turning the volume up to eleven, so that disabled people, and women in particular, cannot be ignored.
In Funny Peculiar we meet four disabled women, all played by fantastic disabled actors: Vici Wreford-Sinnott, Liz Carr, Mandy Colleran and Bea Webster. Who would have thought in 2020 that employing disabled actors to play disabled roles would continue to be a revolutionary act? This week’s media debacle around Sia’s new film, Music, with a non-autistic actor in an autistic role, has proven that it’s still far from a given that disabled people will be seen for disabled roles. It’s rule 101 for disabled artists to employ disabled actors but it’s still far from the norm outside of the disability arts sphere.
Of course, Funny Peculiar is important beyond the simple act of casting talented disabled women in leading roles. In the 50-minute comedy drama, Zsa Zsa, Raquelle, Blanche and Cuba talk direct to camera about the liberations, and frustrations, of their lives as disabled women in lockdown. What other piece of work has given such extended airtime to disabled women during the coronavirus crisis? If we compare the number of disabled, female voices we’ve heard to the numbers of disabled women who are, effectively, prisoners in their own home or who have lost their lives during the pandemic, it’s horrifying how inaudible the experiences of disabled women are.
Far from being didactic or aggressive in its tone, Funny Peculiar is hilarious and relatable. This makes the gut-punches of stark reality that Wreford-Sinnott is so skilled at delivering that much more painful. Zsa Zsa is Mrs Bouquet-meets-Vivienne Westwood: a curtain-twitching fashionista planning cocktail parties on the driveway and showing off her shoe collection. Blanche is an enthusiastic community leader, sending well-wishing postcards to her neighbours to prevent isolation, addicted to Zoom-based bingo. Cuba is a gaming fanatic who is, err, ‘playing’ herself through lockdown as well as making love soup for those in food hardship. Raquelle is an ex-stand up comedienne and lifelong human rights activist writer who has decided to resist the lure of a crude reality show pitting ‘oldies’ versus the young comedians of the future.
These are ordinary women in extraordinary circumstances, and all reveal their loveable quirks to camera, but also let share their dark nights of the soul and the new-found barriers that Covid-19 has thrown up: Zsa Zsa’s career is stymied by her inability to leave the flat; vivaciously sociable Blanche hasn’t seen her friends in person for months; Raquelle is plagued by body-shaming comments and Cuba laments the lack of visible stories about deaf lives.
The close-ups on the faces of these four women, the intensity of their eye contact and to-camera delivery is gripping and beautifully intimate, as well as giving shivers down the spine when they relate the ableism-meets-sexism they all experience on a daily basis.
Once again, as always with the work of Little Cog, I find myself both smiling broadly and swallowing the lump in my throat as I relate to the women on screen. Funny Peculiar is a marvellously mutinous film – a disabled, female Talking Heads for our times: witty, warm and infinitely wise. Watch it, but most important of all – share, share and share again so that those who really need to will hear these stories.
Funny Peculiar is a Staging Our Futures Commission supported by Arts Council England, and co-commissioned by ARC Stockton and Northern Stage.