Ovalhouse Theatre, London – until 6 May 2017
I went into Frozen Light’s immersive show for people with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD), Home, determined to do two things: not use the word “inspiring”, and assess the production as a piece of theatre in its own right.
The hour-long interactive show follows two women stranded in a city-destroying dust storm after missing an emergency evacuation. Together, Scarlet and Olive must survive until rescue comes, finally deciding to rebuild their city with other survivors. Performed in an intimate and well-utilised space, Home is a multi-sensory adventure. The vaguely dystopian staging and design are pleasingly Mad Maxian – but with a disco ball and a bubble machine – complete with layers of beige rags and copious amounts of sand (and gold glitter). The leads act (in spoken English and BSL), sing, dance, play instruments and engage with each audience member in a way that is warm and personal.
I’ve been to a lot of immersive/interactive non-disabled theatre and found myself being called upon to do some weird stuff (shoutout to Arturo Ui) but nothing feels so intimate as someone spraying sweet mist into your mouth or gently adorning you with bubbles. If it felt like that for me, how must it have felt for the PMLD audience members? Well, included, probably. For once. Visible.
I am not going to use the word inspiring. But I realised while watching that treating it as just another piece of theatre is facile and reductive. It works fine as a piece of theatre. It’s deceptively sophisticated. It has a strong narrative, great music, and talented performers with buckets of stage presence. But I am not who this piece was made for. I recently watched something I wrote performed in BSL and it was a light bulb moment regarding how disabled audiences are othered in a traditional mainstream theatre.
Disabled audiences are still too often marginalised in theatre, and none more so than audience members with PMLD. Rather than making theatre inherently for able-bodied audiences and shoehorning in access accommodation (a single performance in a run that has captions, placed at a neck-breaking angle so the “normals” aren’t discombobulated), why not change the paradigm and make work that has accessibility built into its DNA?
This is what Frozen Lights does, and in doing so it creates a powerful and inclusive experience. Home very simply, in a short and straightforward way, explores all manner of complex issues: isolation, connection, separation, compromise, community, survival, and the need for home and what home represents. These are issues that everyone can identify with, regardless of their ability status.