Culture critic Megan Gates reviews ‘Still No Idea’, a ‘magical piece of theatre’, at the REP
Witty, innovative and unapologetically dark – ‘Still No Idea’ by Lisa Hammond, Lee Simpson and Rachael Spence is a must see.
The stage for this production is unassuming – a grey box with a couple of chairs, a table and a discarded keyboard. Our stars, Lisa and Rachael tell us that ten years ago, they wanted to make a show together but had no ideas so they took to the streets and asked the public “If you could imagine us two in a show, what would it be about?”. The public’s suggestions formed the basis of their collaborative debut, ‘No Idea’, which received rave reviews. For this production the basis is the same – the public suggested the show just ten years after the first one. The pair re-enact the public’s ideas, seeing them as a cockney double act, observational comedians and the victims of a nondescript street accident due to ‘wonky knees’.
The show is seamless for which special commendation must be given to light designer Colin Grenfell and sound designer Gareth Fry, whose remarkable work was commanding without being distracting. The wall at the back of the stage becomes a projection screen for the public’s recommendations as the pair find themselves in photo booths and rom-com worthy montages. This is an outrageously funny production – forget ‘close to the line’, the show is so far past the line you cannot see it; often having the audience asking themselves “can they say that?” and “can we laugh at that?”.
However, the pair found that Lisa, who uses a wheelchair for chronic pain, was always put in the background of the public’s stories. She was sat in a luxury apartment while Rachael falls in love and sat nowhere specific while Rachael hunts for the truth behind the death of an old school friend. Indeed, this show was not merely a two-person comedy – it is a gritty shattering of the assumption that it is easier to be disabled today than it was ten years ago. This is a play about how people with disabilities are put in boxes, and that it is often well-meaning people who put them there.
We are shown a sobering list of names and ages of people with disabilities who died by suicide, generally after being declared fit for work by the DWP. We are told that people with disabilities on TV (who are rarely given storylines venturing beyond their disabilities) or winning medals at the Paralympics are “inspiration porn”. They make people look the other way and feel rather good about ourselves for putting some people with disabilities in the limelight, whilst many people with disabilities are being denied tools they need to simply survive. Perhaps it is an extreme view, but it is one so forcefully and yet so humanly presented that it holds a powerful traction over the audience.
It is a play about a problem which does not pretend to offer any solution – the stars themselves accept that they simply haven’t got any. All they ask is the next time you read a book or watch a TV show or a film, you imagine the lead as a person with disabilities, because “imagining doesn’t change anything”, but it’s a start.
‘Still No Idea’ is a magical piece of theatre, a triumphant collaboration between the Royal Court and Improbable shown at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre until the 27th October. More information can be found here.