Another England stops at Stratford Circus on its current national tour, DAO journalist Kate Lovell entered the dystopian near-future on 21st June
Search lights swirl across the audience, two performers welcome us into the safe house, reminding us that the doors must be closed before curfew. The staging is intimate, “four corners of domestic bliss” as live audio-described by Phillipa Cole, who plays Rat, and we sit in-the-round. It’s the perfect setting for the claustrophobic two-hander, exploring an all-too believable near future where disabled people are stripped of their national insurance numbers and sent away to live in camps: out of sight and forgotten. Immediately the recent crimes against disabled people in Whorlton Hall psychiatric hospital spring to mind; disabled people locked up with no one to advocate for them. This is the first of numerous contemporary resonances: the ‘future’ of the play is chillingly close.
The strength of Wreford-Sinnott’s play is the authenticity of its’ truth in telling disabled people’s stories. Rat is a young disabled woman who is fleeing the authorities, hiding in a safe house before Murphy (Andrew McLay) bowls into her world and claims the house is his, by birthright. Rat represents the liberal left, an everywoman who speaks for many amongst an average theatre audience. But Murphy challenges: he’s a St George’s flag-waving nationalist, unafraid to declare his racist rhetoric to whoever will listen. He refuses to see the common ground that two disabled people might have in this frightening oppressive state.
What is so clever about Wreford-Sinnot’s writing of Murphy is that, in spite of his abhorrent views, we don’t hate him: as his past is fed to us in slivers of bottle-green glass, we begin to empathise with him, to understand how he has become so full of spitting hatred for ‘the other’.
And this is where Another England is most powerful in its dialogue with the audience: Rat and Murphy, from opposing sides of the political spectrum, do intellectual battle, sparring over ideologies and ethics. We know whose ‘side’ we’re on. But continually sitting in our bubble, raging against the machine in our cosy theatre isn’t going to cut it: for real change to happen, we must engage with the perceived ‘enemy’.
Rat and Murphy find common ground – they had to be locked in a house, unable to escape each other, for the connection to occur. Wreford-Sinnott astutely places the biggest issue of our country into this domestic story: two disabled people scrapping with each other over who is the most in need, in a society that doesn’t care about either. This is exactly what austerity was designed for: to divide and rule amongst people who could be joining hands to fight the system that oppresses us all.
It’s easy for systemic abuse to happen when society teaches us to regard disabled people as ‘the other’. But as Another England reminds us, “disability is family” – everyone has a disabled person amongst their loved ones. The current cruelty affects us all. See the play. Talk about it. It’s an urgent story that must be heard in this time of crisis.
Another England plays at the following theatres:
Arts Centre Washington 20 June
Stratford Circus Arts Centre 21&22 June
Waterside Arts 25 June
Lincoln Drill Hall 26 June
Hull Truck Theatre 27 June
Harrogate Royal Hall 1 July
Corn Exchange Newbury 4 July
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