Writer: Molly Davies
Director: Hamish Pirie
Seven friends from a drama group for learning-disabled people are worried they might go down for the murder of their friend, Joe. They plead with us to bear witness to the events of the preceding days so we can clear their name once and for all. As the next two hours ensue, we find out everything that happened, from how they met Joe (one of them hugged him on a bus and he followed them for the rest of the day) to how they left Joe (passed out near an open body of water). Imposter 22 is not the cabaret promised by the red velvet curtains we walk through but it is still a riotous night of laughter, sex and a good old-fashioned whodunnit.
Having a play created by and for learning-disabled people on the main stage of a prominent London theatre is incredible. It shows real progress towards the diversifying of voices on the new writing scene and is a breath of fresh air. And Imposter 22 does not disappoint, it is unapologetically truthful to the experience of the creators and never stops to make allowances for the non-disabled audience. It should not be such a radical act to have a learning-disabled woman explain in glorious and hilarious detail the sex she just had with a neurotypical person. But it is. So often people with neurodivergence are infantilized and pedestalled. Imposter 22 does a good job to remind us that they are grown, capable and flawed.
It is perhaps accidental poetry that stops this show from being a stand-out smash. What is set out as a rigidly structured show dissolves into a farce of mixed and unexplained metaphors (a huge hamster wheel is produced, used once, and then never referenced again), faux-forgotten lines and then actually forgotten lines and a lacklustre stab at a plot. The script by Molly Davies is bloated and fatty and the constant quippy asides seem to only make the mammoth task of performance even more insurmountable and the missed cues snowball to the point where you can never be quite sure that a scene has hit the narrative mark it was supposed to.
Another bizarre element of the script is the hostility towards homeless people. Throughout the play near constant derogatory remarks are made about Danny, a neurotypical homeless man who has been solicited to play the role of their dead friend Joe. It is a very difficult watch and is limply challenged at the end of Act One, only for Chloe to attempt to withhold payment at the end of Act Two in case he spends it on drugs. This thread sticks out like a sore and bigoted thumb and completely ignores the existence of the large intersection between people who have experienced homelessness and those with learning disabilities.
It is easy to ignore these issues as the abundant joy in the cast, most of whom also created the show, is palpable and more than enough to keep us engaged. Cian Binchy and Housni Hassan are especially brilliant, bringing a real double-act energy to every scene they’re in. Their complementary styles of dead-pan cynicism and cheerleader optimism are endlessly funny and would be at home on a raucous late-night talk show. Design by Cai Dyfan is also wonderful, lending a hard pencil sketch to the hyperactivity of the action on stage. Projections by Lewis Den Hertog let us know exactly where we are even when the narrative is lost.
Imposter 22 is a beacon of what is to come and guarantees a good time even at its worst. It is evident that the show needs just a bit more polish but it will surely come.
Runs until 14 October 2023