Who knew that wading into the dangerous comedic waters of ableism could be so… fun? The oxymoronic pairing is the prevailing theme of the evening as Scottish writer and director Robert Softley Gale takes aim at Hollywood’s continual penchant for the cultural appropriation of disability in My Left/Right Foot. Drama, retribution, and tender love ensues as a trope of amateur actors attempt to remake the namesake film in order to win diversity brownie points in an upcoming competition. However, any attempt at tangible inclusion is an egotistical pass at best. After all, “Who hasn’t won an Oscar who played a disable?” It is this kind of tongue in cheek narrative that lends itself to a more serious conversation about glorifying illness in “inspiration porn”, while pointedly asking the audience members to check their own privilege.
It all began as, one by one, the actors of the Kirktoon Players reluctantly agree that in this day and age a carton of Soya milk doesn’t quite cut it as diversity any more. They rifle through the plights of various minority groups until landing on a story that wasn’t too risky, nor too safe, My Left Foot. The group attempts at method acting, from flopping about the floor like a salmon, to learning how to swear like a depression-era Irishman with a speech impediment, are strangely (if awkwardly) hilarious to witness. Of course, as their efforts inevitably fail, they recruit a disabled handyman painting the studio to help ‘explain’ what it feels like to live with cerebral palsy. Chris (Matthew Duckett) in turn helps to shed light on their inadvertent prejudices and larger complacency in discrimination. The scripting itself is witty, chalk-full of zing, but often foul-mouthed. Throughout the show there are several entergentic song and dance numbers, especially from love interest Gillian (Dawn Sievewright) who simply astounds with her vocals.
My Left/Right Foot is a joint production between the National Theatre of Scotland and Birds of Paradise, a Scottish theatre company led by disabled artists, and cleverly incorporates British sign language into the fabric of the play through Nat (Natalie MacDonald), who acts as the proverbial voice of reason to the casts’ ignorance. For such a weighty topic, it never feels patronising. While the target at large is Daniel Day-Lewis in his seminal role as Christy Brown, the one for which he picked up his first Oscar, further productions are called out by name, including Me Before You and The Elephant Man. The archetype belongs on the same deplorable list as whitewashing in film, and yet, from the stage we are given a hall pass to laugh at the now-obvious absurdity of casting an able-bodied English actor in a role he maybe wasn’t meant to fill.
My Left / Right Foot – The Musical
Assembly Roxy – Central (Venue 139)
until 27 August (not 21)
Image: Hannah Andrews