Bunker Theatre, London – until 21 December 2019
Little Miss Burden fizzes with energy and charm. With this powerful piece of new writing, Matilda Ibini fuses the colloquial and poetic, with modern cultural references to create a moving, grounded and honest piece about growing up black, female and with a disability in modern London. Her story takes us on a journey that ranges from the heights of joy to the depths of despair. This show is packed with warmth and humour, and even holds our hands as it brings us to tears. I left the theatre buzzing and with my throat blocked with emotions that I’m still processing.
Saida Ahmed is wonderful as our protagonist Little Miss. She has great comic timing, while also giving a sensitive and heart-breaking portrayal of a girl having to battle the joint forces of depression and anxiety as she comes to terms with a medical condition it takes doctors far too long to diagnose.
Ani Nelson and Michelle Tiwo complete the cast, playing Little Sis and Big Sis (respectively), as well as a plethora of other characters as required. They move between these different parts with a skill and humour that is a pure joy to watch. I particularly enjoyed Nelson’s portrayal of their determined and loving Nigerian mother. The chemistry between Ahmed, Nelson and Tiwo convincingly lands the premise of three strong sisters, who while they might tease each other, are fiercely supportive of each other. My money would be on this particular ‘girl band’ taking on the world and winning.
Debbie Hannan’s direction brings out the dynamism in Ibini’s writing. She focuses on the love, humour and courage that is baked into the piece, bringing them to life with an exuberant playfulness that encourages the audience to become an active participant in the show. The energy sustained in the room, and through the audience is electric, as we are truly made to feel like we are part of the story. The talented cast are clearly encouraged to respond to spontaneous audience reactions in a way that makes the piece even more immediate and engaging. This freshness makes Little Miss Burden the sort of show you could happily watch again and again.
This is a pitch perfect, joyful production of an exquisite and sensitive piece of new writing from Ibini. She touches on so many themes that, in other hands, might have felt heavy and difficult to digest. Instead we are moved, our eyes are gently opened and we leave feeling as if we could be part of a more optimistic future. As a writer she really highlights the importance of the language we use, and how dangerous it can be. She is not afraid to show how certain social and religious beliefs can be emotionally damaging to those who live with disability. This play implicitly taps into the medical vs social disability model debate*, and comes out firmly on the side of the social model. By personifying Little Miss’s LGMD** in a playful way, Ibini beautifully illuminates for us the changing relationship Little Miss has with her body, and this sits at the emotional centre of her coming of age story.
I would happily recommend rushing to see ‘Little Miss Burden’ to everyone. You should all go and see this fabulous show. No excuses. Buy tickets. Go, sit, watch, laugh, cry, go home changed.
‘Little Miss Burden’ runs at the Bunker Theatre until Saturday 21st December. Consider it a Christmas present to yourselves.
*For those not familiar with the medical vs social disability debate, a very simplistic nutshell description is as follows: Medical disability looks at disability as something to be cured, and the person living with it as damaged. In this construct it is easy to portray someone with a disability as a burden. Social disability shifts the focus outwards and looks at how someone’s life my be limited because we live in a society that has not created a world that allows for all people to thrive. This shift means the problem exists around us and it is curable (first step, stop electing Tory governments people). Instead of defining people by what is ‘wrong’ with them, we instead focus on what they need and how to provide it.
** LGMD = limb-girdle muscular dystrophies