Don't. Make. Tea

The 27th March is a date pencilled into every theatre-goers diary each year, World Theatre Day. A global celebration of theatre, all over the world. What better way to celebrate than spending an evening at Soho Theatre, watching a new dark comedic thriller, by Glasgow-based, disability-led theatre company Birds of Paradise. 

Birds of Paradise are a theatre company based in Scotland founded in 1993. With a vision of sharing a theatre culture where disabled artists are recognised for the excellence of their work, through stories they bring to stage. An accessible arts company, producing accessible productions in accessible venues. Disabled people continue to experience a lack of equality and considerable barriers within society, including the arts. Productions such as Don't.Make.Tea go a long way in addressing this. 

Don’t.Make.Tea is a dark, comedic thriller, set in the near future, 2037 to be exact. Christine Dunlop (Gillian Dean) is a proud former Police Detective, with a deteriorating condition meaning there is no option but to claim benefits. The play centres around the disability benefits assessment, often referred to as PIP assessments. Ralph believes in the new system, but can Chris persuade him to change her mind? How far is she willing to go to save herself?

From the outset we are introduced to Able, an artificial intelligence device on the coffee table, describing everything happening in the play, voiced & performed by Richard Conlon. Beside Able is Francis, a virtual BSL interpreter signing every word spoken by all characters, signed & performed by Emery Hunter. 

We are introduced to Christine (Gillian Dean) and Ralph (Neil John Gibson) in the first part of the play, focusing on the assessment and exploration of Chris’s ability through a series of interrogation questioning and a lie detector. While Chris tries to skilfully navigate the questions, Ralph is on hand to dominate and patronise with requests leaving Christine on the edge, including a humiliating performance of ‘heads, shoulders, knees and toes'. 

The second act begins following a climactic twist, one met with exasperated gasps around the audience. We are quickly introduced to Able and the BSL interpreter - resembling Chris’ mother Francis (Emery Hunter), in physical form. They begin to examine the crisis and explore a way out. We later meet Ralph’s supervisor Jude (Nicola Chegwin), the creator of the ‘Work Pays’ system. 

The clever set design allows the audience to see through a dissection of Chris’s flat, best described by Able in the opening scene, “An inexpensively furnished sitting room with a sofa, table, coffee table and large screen television, lies empty but messy and tasteless”.

Theatre is for everyone and should be enjoyed by everyone. This is a strong belief I hold and one of the key reasons I fell in love with theatre. The accessibility features available in Don’t.Make.Tea are simply magnificent. The play sets a new standard, reaches new heights in theatre production, a truly accessible show for everyone. A trend I hope can continue. 

All performances are captioned, have embedded BSL (British Sign Language) interpretation throughout, audio description in the script, text captions and a digital programme available. From the moment you enter Soho Theatre, audiences can enjoy the show experience without a single barrier in the way, including access to the theatre, seats and bars before the show. 

Often in the final sentence of a review I would try to summarise and encourage audiences to watch the production. In this case I am simply going to use a quote from the director (Robert Softley Gale), who summarises why the production is so important. 

“We hope Don’t.Make.Tea. starts to ask some important questions about how we support disabled people in society. This show won’t answer such big complex questions but I hope it’ll start some much needed discussions on where things are and how we can move forward.” 

This show was reviewed on the 27th March at Soho Theatre where it runs until Saturday 6th April.  Tickets available here: Don’t. Make.Tea. - Soho Theatre

Review written by Stuart Midwinter

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Photo credit: Andy Catlin

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