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.
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,
October 12th – 8.00 pm, Copper Auditorium,