Edinburgh Fringe 2016
We enter a magical place with a statue who plays music and a muse who writes lyrics. Unfortunately, they are at different edges of the same place – the Forest – and our narrator, the caretaker, works hard to bring them together after a storm.
Billed as the first ever Fringe show created for people with Multiple Learning Difficulties this performance therefore begins with a massive claim and much to live up to. We enter a theatre and a forest and before we take our seats the caretaker is amongst us ushering us in to where we ought to sit. The statue, Robin, is still, the songwriter, Thea, asleep. We are then treated to the introductions, the weather, the loss of a notebook and a guitar and then an ending that would grace any piece of theatre with aplomb for any audience.
This is the major point for me. This ought not just be a major thing that is designed for a minor group; it has to be the use of theatre to access an audience and for them to return the compliment; this quite simply does the trick. It removes much of the haughtiness of theatre to allows young Mathew to walk throughout the performance and does not freak when he seeks to interact. It brings the story visually, aurally and with real water and real wind to each and every audience member with Multiple Learning Difficulties.
That it does so using the medium of theatre is simply, fantastic for theatre. The bar for performances of this nature has risen over the last few years as people have woken up to the idea of theatre actually being accessible and not being something that makes massive claims but has to now show that it can meet those claims. Here we see Frozen Light perform something that has theatre, not as an adjunct or an afterthought but as the central performer in the piece.
The audience, the more important ones, Matthew, Dannielle, Chantelle, Natalie and Rachel have their names sung to them. They have the wind and the rain thanks to a leaf blower and sprays out of hand held sprays brought to them. They have the forest draped over them and apricots given to them, again in spray and then to eat. This becomes a visual, exploratory and sensory treat for all of us.
The integration of music and light and sound helps enhance the performance to the point where we are part of it and not just observers. This is where it scores so highly for me as the joy comes not from watching a piece of theatre but now watching the audience reaction to that piece of theatre.
It is not a piece of theatre that exists as some form of afterthought and you can feel the real research and experience oozing out the pores of the writer, designer, director and most of all the performers. Their pitch is perfect as it comes down to engaging but far from condescending. The young people with Multiple Learning Difficulties get someone up close talking to THEM and making their experience real.
I did wonder if the signing by the caretaker could have been picked up more by Thea and Robin but I have a deaf son and sometimes think I might be hyper sensitive to that so this is an individual and personal observation – not a criticism.
Frozen Light have created a piece of theatre that will live long in the memory and the production has raised the bar once again. Any funder who wonders about how to make theatre accessible should be compulsorily sat down to watch this. They should see how the aforementioned Matthew, who walked for Scotland throughout was welcomed, nay encouraged to BE himself rather than what happens, I am sure all the time, being tutted at, ushered out and made to feel unwelcome. I often wonder why carers and parents are not 6 stone and size zero as they walk, jog and run behind their charges who are charging around. Here he was at home, interacting at times, making his mum anxious at others but never aggressive or intruding on the enjoyment of others. This is why Frozen Light’s name should be on the top of each and every funding programme annually. Some people talk about accessibility…