My Left/Right Foot, The Musical is a co-production between Birds of Paradise and National Theatre of Scotland. It plays the Assembly Roxy 1-27 August as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This article was commissioned as part of Dolly Sen’s guest editorship on Disability Arts Online. Review by Sonali Shah.
Birds of Paradise Theatre Company celebrates its 25th (silver) anniversary with this side-splittingly hilarious musical comedy, written by Scottish director and actor Robert Softley-Gale and cleverly crafted in collaboration with National Theatre Scotland. With 5* acting and singing, an original score by the award-winning Noisemakers, razor sharp lyrics which shred political correctness to bits, and the complexities of the disabled/non-disabled divide, this production is a MUST SEE, but certainly not certificate PG!
The local am-dram group, the Kirktoon Players, are hoping to win this year’s Scottish Amateur Dramatic Association (SADA) award with a new show directed by the young enthusiastic Amy (Louise McCarthy). Their entry would need to comply to SADA’s new equality guidelines which stipulate that all candidates must ‘engage with inclusion and diversity in the chosen script, rehearsal process, production and props’.
How hard can that be? What about an adaptation of Twelve Years a Slave, with the actors blacking up? Oh wait, the Players previously got into trouble for blacking up an 11-year-old white boy to play Bugsy Malone. Lesson learned. This time they should do something about ‘the disabled’.
Through the thought-provoking lyrics of the ‘Inclusion’ song – ‘change delusion through inclusion, it wouldn’t be a bad thing’ – the Players are increasingly convinced that being inclusive could be their ticket to an Oscar! So they decide to do an adaptation of My Left Foot (MLF) – the 1989 biopic of Christy Brown, the Irish dude with Cerebral Palsy (CP) who learnt to write with his left foot, and became inspiration porn for the mothers of boys with CP in the 80s (including Softley-Gale).
Grant (McLanon), the only professional actor in the group, is elected to play Brown. With his experience as a West End pro he should have no problem cripping up for the role. After all, Daniel Day Lewis did, and he got an Oscar for it! Cue for song ‘My Left/Right Foot’, written by Richard Thomas (Olivier award-winning composer and writer of Jerry Springer, The Musical).
While the spastic dancing and lyrics ‘Dublin in the 30s, living in a slum, everyone’s got CP but still they’re having fun’, and ‘can you believe my son he is a cripple’ may be considered as a step too far for some audiences, the 200 people that filled the auditorium of the Assembly Roxy were laughing hysterically. Could this be because they personally identified with the characters and stories in some way? As a disabled adult myself, I certainly did.
Cripping up on stage or screen is a big NO NO! Sadly, it still goes on in the mainstream arts world. MLRF explores what is and is not ok through song and humour in a powerful nondidactic way. The Players eventually cast Chris (Matthew Duckett) as Brown because he has CP too. Initially Chris is not keen, believing he is not disabled enough and that MLF is ‘inspiration porny’.
Eventually he gives in, seeing it as the perfect way to get closer to Amy. But while Chris wants Amy, Gillian (Dawn Sievewright) wants Chris. After much hilarious method rehearsing Chris seems to have perfected swearing in a CP accent, so now no one can understand him (not even via the captions, which become blurred).
As with previous shows directed by Softley-Gale (i.e. Wendy Hoose, Purposeless Movements) accessibility is flawless and used creatively to enhance the overall quality of the performance.
For instance, captions are projected on screens above the stage, ensuring the dialogue and song lyrics can be understood by all, including those of us unfamiliar with the Scottish accent. Nat (Natalie MacDonald), makes the entire show accessible to D/deaf people through BSL.
The innovative approaches of Softley-Gale and the MLRF team means that tools of accessibility also bring comedy and laughter to the stage. We see this when Sheena (Gail Watson) understands Nat’s ‘waving her hands around’ to mean she herself is deaf, and shouts to make Nat hear her (captions change into capital letters every time Sheena shouts at Nat).
After a standing/seated ovation, we all left the venue with the ear worm ‘Dazzling cripple, dazzling cripple rising to the top’.