The much-needed refreshing take on what it means to be disabled – And Suddenly I Disappear – The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues illuminates the Southbank Centre ahead of a short tour
“There is no dis in my ability”
Honest conversations about disability are difficult to have. Just looking at the range of responses to last week’s announcement of a non-disabled actor taking the lead in the BBC’s new production of The Elephant Man (take a glimpse at the comments on this article, just a quick one mind, the soul can only take so much…) indicates the scale of the problem but also, crucially, how few people really see it as that much of an issue, the systemic way in which disabled people are othered in society.
Someone who does get it is playwright Kaite O’Reilly, whose And Suddenly I Disappear – The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues (the first multilingual, intercultural, Deaf and disability-led theatre project created between the UK and Singapore doncha know!) plays the Southbank Centre as part of their Unlimited Festival. A set of fictional monologues that start a conversation about difference, about disability, by presenting the huge gulf in perception between actual lived experience and what societal conditioning tells you it is.
So a monologue entitled ‘Can’t Do’ spins off in a wonderfully unexpected direction by confounding expectation, another emerges as a visceral rant against those who wear the label ‘disabled’ too lightly, and clichés about macramé and basket-weaving are wittily skewered, more than once. This is done in a variety of media (spoken, visual, projected), in a variety of languages (English, Mandarin, Welsh, British Sign Language and Singapore Sign Language), and pulled together with a real theatrical flourish by director and executive producer Phillip Zarrilli.
The cumulative power of these pieces amounts to something really quite considerable, a dark vein of humour making way for something more thought-provoking, that shakes up some of those presumptions that we all carry. And you can’t help but bristle with frustration at the depth of talent that just isn’t being given the opportunities by mainstream culture to break through to become the bankable names that society apparently demands in order to lead major projects. Until then, we should be grateful that powerful, convention-defying work like this is being produced.