Mia – Mind The Gap Theatre.

Mia

Sometimes a production is birthed that is not only innovative, creative and absorbing theatre, but that has a message that is vitally important for society to grasp if we are ever to learn to be fully tolerant and understanding of all. Mind The Gap’s production Mia, is just such a production.

Expecting a child is a life-changing commitment for any loving young couple.

 
The excitement, anticipation and joyous preparation is weighed in equal measure with the anxieties and fear of what is ahead, the introduction to new jargon, unfamiliar medical procedures and confusing decisions to be made, where it can seem as though the intimacy of the relationship between them is exposed and open to scrutiny and advice from all comers. For a person of disability the pressure can be intensified, and for those who happen to have a learning disability there is a system in place that can be difficult to negotiate at its least, heartbreakingly cruel and inflexible at its extreme.

 
The phrase ‘Learning Disability’ encompasses a wide spectrum of conditions. Some of those affected are capable of living fully independent lives having been equipped with minimal coping strategies, whilst others – particularly those with added physical disabilities – may need full-time care and support for every area of their lives. As with all individuals, there is no one-size fits all solution to their needs. Yet, when a person who has been statemented as Learning Disabled becomes pregnant, Social Services and medical personnel immediately lock them into a system that assesses their capabilities from a rigid criteria that even the most accomplished amongst us would have difficulty fully meeting and that has little to do with emotional well-being or parental empathy.

 
In Mind The Gap’s earlier production ‘Contained’, Alison had told the story of the arrival of her cousin’s baby. Last year, I had the privilege of meeting that cousin, an intelligent, beautiful young woman, and her gorgeous, alert, well cared for, developmentally healthy toddler. She spoke with elegant articulation of the sword of Damocles that has hung over her head since the moment the blue line showed on her pregnancy test, and the fight that still rages on to keep her little girl from being taken into care, because she, as the mum, has Asperger’s Syndrome, one of the conditions labelled as ‘Learning Disability’. It was this mother’s story that prompted Mind The Gap’s Joyce Nga Yu Lee to begin research into this little investigated area and to formulate the show Mia, part of the theatre’s Daughters Of Fortune season. I have followed Mia’s development from those early R and D days and what has emerged is a unique, accomplished piece of theatre that is in turns emotionally churning, informative, humorous and thought provoking, executed with the excellence we have come to expect from Mind The Gap, England’s largest learning disability theatre company.

 
Almost ninety percent of parents with learning disability will have their child removed from them, fostered or adopted and all connections severed, and the basis for such decisions rests more upon the prejudice of an all-encompassing label than upon each individual’s capacity to love and nurture a child. Mia is the story of a pregnant woman with learning disability, told in choreography, speech, skits and song, throwing up the statistics that make for sober reading in inventive, easily digestible chunks, and showing up the ridiculousness of some of the hoops these young parents have to jump through in order to show their worthiness to nurture their children. Footage of true stories add weight to the tragedies of a well-intentioned, but clumsily managed, impersonal, frightening and, in places, frankly bizarre assessment process.

 
Mia is a voice given to those that some would believe have no right to one. It is empowering, fierce and brave.

 
One of the actors has recently married. In an early R and D session, excitingly just engaged, she was asked if she wanted children, knowing the assessment procedure and possible outcome. She very timidly replied, “Yes, I want them, but I don’t think I will. It’s all a bit scary.” Closer to the production’s latest level of development, she was asked the same question. With confident, quiet defiance, she asserted, “Oh yes, I want children and to fight to keep them.” Her revised answer spoke volumes of the power of this production; it was the whispered indications of an uprising beginning.

 
Mia is so thoroughly entertaining that it sounds more like a seventies disco than a determined battle-cry, but it has a remit and substance that charges against the prejudices, injustices and outmoded misunderstandings with full force, and raises the banner of a change that must come if all are to be treated with equality and respect.

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Mind The Gap.

August 8th – 27th (exc Mondays) – 2.45 pm, Old Lab, Summerhall,  Edinburgh Fringe Festival

September 13th,14th – 1.00 pm, 8.00 pm, Studio Theatre,

 Hull Truck Theatre

October 12th – 8.00 pm, Copper Auditorium,

 Square Chapel Arts Centre

Mind The Gap

 

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What We Wished For.

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Sometimes something comes along that is pure joy to be involved in. 

Chris Bush’s play ‘What We Wished For’ at Sheffield Crucible is just such a thing. When I auditioned, I hoped only that I could be in it, and was blown away to be offered the part of Gretel, a deliciously amusing character; part of a brother and sister duo, with the very accomplished veteran of Sheffield productions, Ian France, as my sibling Hansel. But this is very much an ensemble piece from start to finish and what a truly wonderful ensemble it is.

The rehearsal days have whirled past in a flurry of songs, words to be learned, costume to be fitted and ‘notes’ to be attended to. There has been the humorous and there has been the moving.There has been friendship, support by the bucketful, shared birthday celebrations and lots of laughter. I’ve been stretched in my abilities like never before and learned so much, come to realise that I was definitely absent on the day spatial awareness and body coordination were handed out, but have also realised that somewhere inside me is a singing voice and an erstwhile unknown aptitude for comedy. The whole team has been phenomenal, right through from our fabulous director Emily Hutchinson, the set and costume creatives, our gorgeous stage manager Jen Davey and every member of the talented, beautiful cast. My, Sheffield has some tremendous people…

The last few precious days have been spent negotiating the Crucible stage, and what an immense privilege it is to be there. On our first tech rehearsal I couldn’t stop the tears streaming as realisation hit of where I was and who had stood there before me, and that emotional response to the space hasn’t left me yet. It’s overwhelmingly magnificent.

I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but this is quite different to anything I’ve ever been involved in before. It has opportunity for our outstanding young performers to show their immense skills, it has fantastic , rousing songs and it has the usual mix of fear and fun to make it a superb feel-good family show, but there’s also a very clever, perceptively precious, serious message that is empowering, timely and uplifting . Chris Bush is a clever writer who knows how to squeeze the deeply powerful into a container that is marked ‘Utterly Delightful’ and to pour it into the laps of her hearers, readers and players with abundance. 

This production has been nothing but pure joy to be involved in. It is certainly everything that I could ever have wished for, and much, much more. 

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‘What We Wished For’  - July 19 – 22, 2017

Tickets can booked at  Sheffield Theatres.

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