My Left/Right Foot – The Musical marks Birds of Paradise Theatre’s 25th year at the Fringe, and a partnership with The National Theatre of Scotland.
The show follows Kirktoon amateur theatre society as they realise that they have to step up their game if they want to win the Scottish Amateur Dramatic Association’s one-act play festival. With extra points available for entries that demonstrate inclusion, they decide that it’s time for the company to showcase ‘the disabled’ with misplaced enthusiasm and little understanding.
Inspired by Daniel Day Lewis’ portrayal of Christy Brown in the ‘inspiration-porno’ My Left Foot, the group are certain that Brown’s story will guarantee them first place in the festival – as leading man Grant declares, “Who hasn’t won an Oscar playing the disabled?”
Despite their enthusiasm, the company soon realise that they have no idea what it is like to be disabled. They enlist the help of handyman Chris who, like Christy Brown, has cerebral palsy. Casting Chris is the catalyst for chaos as the group’s well-intended enterprise turns sour and the politics of accessibility and inclusion prove problematic.
My Left/Right Foot sets out to highlight the ableism of the inclusion agenda by focusing primarily on the portrayal of disabled people in theatre and film. The musical demonstrates the irony that disabled voices are actively excluded from their own narratives through the casting of able-bodied actors in disabled roles, the assumption that the experience of disability is universal, and the burden of the so-called ‘super-crip’ phenomenon – the trend that gives voice only to extraordinary life experiences of disability as inspirational examples of extreme tenacity. It is, of course, no easy task to address these issues.
The staging alone deserves five stars. Set in a simple community hall, the surtitles projected above the stage take on their own life, often adding to the comedy. A special mention needs to be given to BSL interpreter/performer Natalie McDonald whose integration and signed commentary on the action onstage frequently received the biggest laughs.
Sadly, for everything that can be said about the intention of the musical, the staging, and the talent of the cast, the material doesn’t match up.
From unoriginal songs to repetitive jokes designed to get a cheap laugh, the piece needs reworking to unlock its potential. The musical is, in some ways, groundbreaking for NTS due to its subject matter and the decision to give disabled artists a much needed platform, but its advances in critiquing the portrayal and use of disability in theatre are minor; it needed to transcend the sit-com format as the piece gathered pace in order to deliver the punch that it seemed to cop out of at the last minute.
With simple edits and a new score this is a piece that, in time, could be the show that it set out to be.