Performer: Claire Cunningham
Reviewer: Richard Hall
Still something of a newcomer to the Arts Festivals scene in Manchester, SICK! has for this year’s Festival taken over an impressive number of City centre venues and also as in this instance, some community centres in outlaying districts, for a three week long programme of some of the finest and most hard-hitting new theatre, dance, film and public art to be seen currently anywhere in the UK. Since being founded in 2013 the Festival has operated in both Brighton and Manchester and boasting over 200 events is one of the biggest in Manchester’s busy and crowded Arts Festival calendar.
The Festival proudly claims to celebrate life, death and survival. It’s quite a claim and in exploring some of the most turbulent experiences in life, the Festival’s organisers have dug deep into many social agendas and attracted an impressive line-up of world class leading artists, including Glasgow based performer Claire Cunningham, who in this intriguing and beguiling piece looks at how major world faiths view deafness and disability.
Claire, herself a disabled performer uses dance, live music, humour and verbatim interviews with religious leaders and other deaf and disabled people to try and answer perpetual questions such as is it the will of a higher power that people are born disabled, is she paying the price for hers and other peoples mistakes and through faith is it possible that she might one day be healed herself and eventually cured of her disability?
If all this sounds very worthy and a bit dry, Claire’s performance is anything but. Thanks to her engaging and warm personality, the perfect balance is struck between confronting stigmas about disability and also celebrating it. From the moment, that Claire, dancer like enters through a triumphant archway of plastic and wooden crutches it is clear that something very special is happening. Guiding the audience through complex religious questions and debate, Claire is the perfect host; she is charming, witty and often quite silly. She is a natural performer capable of instantly putting an audience at ease and drawing them effortlessly into her inner circle. Performed appropriately in the Jewish, Maccabi Community Centre in Brooklands, the piece features for the SICK! Festival an extra sequence researched with the assistance of the Lowry and the Manchester Jewish community. This gives the evening a real sense of context, purpose and immediacy, placing the audience very much at the heart of the debate.
Claire Cunningham does not hide behind her disability; with her good-natured curiosity and almost childlike sense of humour she embraces it fully and encourages those watching her to do so as well. From the most unlikely of premises this is among one of the most joyous, uplifting, heart warming and life affirming shows that this reviewer has ever seen.
Reviewed on 15 March 2017 | Image: Contributed