Writer: Jamie Hale (Not Dying)
Directors: Kate O’Donnell (Not Dying), Shereen Hamilton (Showcase)
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
Jamie Hale’s health is the focus of their spoken-word piece Not Dying, which forms the first half of the Barbican’s latest Pit Party, evenings of curated art and theatre.
Hale’s progressive disability means they are dependent on a 170kg powered wheelchair and hoists. Their health is a persistent issue: first written when they were close to death, Hale has since rewritten Not Dying, and tells their audience that they are on evening release from hospital after a recent relapse.
Hale’s spoken word piece is split between being delivered live on stage, and with verses on video, a rear projection showing a combination of clips of them in hospital and out in the world, including enjoying a tandem paragliding experience.
It is all part of what Hale describes as living well, “a skill learned through illness”. A recurring theme, though, is how others seek to belittle and demean, telling Hale that they would “rather be dead than live like that,” presenting that thought as a compliment, or telling Hale how “brave” they are. Hale’s response to that sort of attitude is clear from their clothing – the T-Shirt slogan “Piss on Pity” summing up their defiant take on life.
The second half of the evening is given over to acts curated by Hale, giving exposure to D/deaf and disabled artists that the theatre world tends to overlook. Deaf poet Donna Williams experiments with telling poetry through both BSL and sign-supported English (SSE), which borrows signs from BSL but follows English grammatical structure, and hip-hop writer and performer Signkid similarly infuses his routines with sign language. Elle Chante and Katie Walters perform a combination of song and performance poetry, Seasick, which has an ethereal quality.
As is the way with variety bills, though, some performances leave a lasting impression beyond their peers. Comedian Jackie Hagan’s This is Not a Safe Space, a combination of performance poetry and stand-up comedy, is a delight even before she elects to remove her prosthetic leg and use the stump as a makeshift ventriloquist’s puppet.
But the star of the evening has to be blind drag king Tito Bone, the performing persona of Amelia Cavallo. Bone is a fundamentally charismatic performer even before they strip down to a 1980s aerobics outfit and embarks on a display of aerial silk work that display relentless, gutsy, acrobatic finesse. That Bone manages to produce one of the most engaging pieces of silk work with a routine that is also a hugely successful piece of clowning makes one wish that all circus cabaret performers could match their calibre.
This iteration of the Barbican’s Pit Party series has shown that D/deaf and disabled performers have much to offer theatre, even though most of our industry tends to shun and ignore them. Let us hope that, in displaying their abilities here, this is one more step to resolving what, we are reminded, Victor Hugo termed “the one true deafness – that of the mind”.
CRIPtic Pit Party took place on October 11 and 12 2019 | Image: Becky Bailey