First published in The Times, Wednesday August 22 2018
It is 30 years since Daniel Day-Lewis won the first of his three Academy awards for Best Actor for his role as Christy Brown in the biopic My Left Foot. While the actor’s remarkable performance as the Irish writer and artist, born with cerebral palsy, was lauded for its bravery and commitment, with hindsight it seems a prime example of “Oscar bait”, whereby actors take on extreme physical transformations with one eye fixed firmly on the awards season.
Christy Brown’s story is at the heart of this musical collaboration between the National Theatre of Scotland and Birds of Paradise, the Scottish theatre company committed to creating opportunities for disabled artists, though the tone here is of sheer irreverence. Robert Softley Gale, who wrote the book and directs, has some caustic points to make about the exclusion of disabled actors from dramas about disability. Through the prism of a motley group of amateur thespians, he also confronts his audience with some uncomfortable home truths about attitudes towards the disabled from non-disabled people.
Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
As the curtain rises, the Kirktoon Players, under the artistic directorship of Louise McCarthy’s painfully earnest Amy – have hit upon a wheeze. The legendary One Act Play Festival, known as the Oscars of am dram, is fast approaching. By staging Brown’s memoir, and casting a former member, Grant (John McLarnon), who has graduated to success in the West End, in the lead role, the group might just have a chance of scooping the top prize.
The debacle that unfolds as this dysfunctional crew begins rehearsals is often eye-wateringly close-to-the-bone. With song titles such as Spasticity and references to “cripping up”, the writing is anything but apologetic. Though the tone is brash and crude, if frequently hilarious, Softley Gale’s points about exclusion are well made via the main character of Chris (Matthew Duckett), a young stage hand with cerebral palsy, who appears almost invisible to the club until he is called upon to urgently replace their leading man.
Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
The show’s major pleasure, however, lies in the clash between the ropiness of am-dram setting and the clever, inventive songs (music and lyrics by Scott Gilmour, Claire McKenzie and Richard Thomas) and slick staging. The presence of Natalie MacDonald’s BSL interpreter among the ensemble, translating some of the filthier elements of the script, adds yet more fun.