The latest show from Galway’s Blue Teapot, which plays with the acronym ID, doesn’t make intellectual disability its only form of identification
In ID, our assumptions are challenged and the cast imparts a series of self-definitions, mainly comic, but often pointed
Blue Teapot Theatre, Galway
With 2012’s Sanctuary, restaged at last year’s Galway Arts Festival, Blue Teapot Theatre Company’s ensemble of actors with intellectual disabilities collaborated with writer Christian O’Reilly to stage an eye-opening drama about sexuality, responsibility and protection among people with special needs. Both the story and its naturalistic form mirrored their own lives, emphasising its relevance while replicating structures of care and protection: if prompts or assistance were needed, we were told beforehand, they would be provided.
For this follow-up, devised by the cast with director Scott Williams and dramaturg Gavin Kostick, there is no such disclaimer. This series of sketches, loosely bound by a shared goal, is initiated instead with a song. As Paul Connolly strums out a cover of Oasis’s Whatever, the cast members arrive onstage hiding their faces behind younger images of themselves, many as children.
It’s a device that’s familiar from contemporary theatre, a way of disarming the audience to consider the adult before us as an innocent. Here, however, it bears another, more arch implication: is that how you regard people with intellectual disability already? In a gentle but significant manner, our assumptions are challenged and the cast imparts a series of self-definitions, mainly comic, but often pointed.
It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that this performance is not a display of disabilities but rather of skills – comedy, music, dance, improvisation – yet Williams knows that first requires changing the optic for the audience. Asked about their disabilities during a mock talk show, some performers respond with clinical diagnoses (“I have Down syndrome”), while others stretch and switch the terms (“I’m a fast and slow learner”; “I’m colour-blind”). Room for improvisation gives the performers an added sense of agency – and there’s something charming about seeing an ensemble amused by each other’s jokes – while that frivolity contains a serious politics of representation.
An artful little lift from Beckett (“Let’s go,” someone urges one. “We can’t,” comes the famous reply) gives the framework of the performance, its gameplay and its waiting, a deeper consideration. How long are we here, who do we let define us, and can we wriggle free from easy, limiting brackets? A late, vaudevillian recitation of Abbott and Costello’s Who’s on First? nails the matter, and its well-worn, comic confusion of names and tags suddenly feels freshly liberating. IDs, however you unpack the acronym, are not all-encompassing when you know who you are. Until July 26