Oily cart – a lesson in how not to be afraid

This term is a hugely busy one for myself. As well as working two jobs I am preparing to go to Cornwall to do inclusive and multi-sensory drama in a special educational needs school. Having a week-long residency is an absolute treat for a theatre company: and possibly even more so for the kids – a whole week of no maths, no grammar and no PE! But when given this task (after a few celebratory ciders) it suddenly dawned on us: we had absolutely no idea what to do. We had free reign of themes and activities: and the limitless possibilities were far too daunting to be able to focus. And the fact that none of had worked with participants with Multiple and Profound Learning difficulties before.

Oily cart was founded 30 years ago as an under-5’s theatre company. Artistic director Tim Webb was kind enough to let myself and my theatre company come and have a chat, as they now specialise in multi-sensory theatre for participants with special educational needs. We went in asking ‘what can we do?’ and we came out saying ‘what should we do?!’. Oily cart have done shows in swimming pools, on trampolines and 3 metres up in the air. They showed us the power of song, simple repetition and a lot of glitter. The main   message they conveyed was that – if you think it, you can do it. They have never seen a wheelchair or a non-verbal participant as a barrier – only as an opportunity to take a creative risk. All of this just made me feel warm inside – being told that something as simple as putting a small grin on a participants face could be a huge achievement in that participants life. But that’s why applied theatre and drama exists – to put smiles on faces. Yes, doing it for special educational needs participants does require a bit more energy, and a lot more feathers, repetition and creativity, but what we discovered is that it will have so much more of an impact, making all the effort worth it.

 

So thank you Oily Cart, for giving us a large spoonful of confidence and excitement for our project!

Whose afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Ok, I’m not gonna lie – the star plug of Imelda Staunton was too much temptation for me to resist this one. Having narrowly missed her performance in Gypsy at the Savoy (but later being saved by the grace of BBC iPlayer) I pounced at at £15 ticket. I also bought a gin and tonic at the theatre, which set me back nearly the same.

Even though it is noted as one of the most poignant plays in the history of American Theatre, I went in completely naive as to the plot. Turns out – its a hardcore story, fuelled by sex, drugs, alcohol and just about everything in between. This made it only more harrowing to find out it was based on real life characters. I spent most of the first act figuring out whether I wanted to move seat or not (they really didn’t lie when they called it restricted view), most of the second act trying to figure out what the heck was going on in the protagonist’s (or was she the antagonist? That’s another question) life, and then the rest of the show with my jaw on the floor. The revelation of the plot point raised all sorts of socio-political questions: patriarchal, class-based, familial, feminist. Each one of these had their own time to shine, not by being openly discussed, but by being relevant enough themes to merit the audience’s autonomous consideration. So, from this I”ve been thinking (for weeks now, this post is very late) – this is one of those plays, that when executed as well as this production, can stand the test of time. Wherever it will be shown, there will be a theme within it that can translate to that audience.

So for a final note on this production: lighting. The play culminated in yet more fantastic acting – you could have heard a pin drop in the theatre. But there was a moment of the most fantastic and effective lighting I have ever witnessed. Nothing fancy, no disco balls or jazzy gauzes, just a white light, positioned on the right point of the stage, to represent a breaking dawn. It was bright, apt – yet it felt cold and told a thousand stories. From a light. Well, thats the joy of a theatre isn’t it.