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Edinburgh Fringe 2012

Dream On

Side by Side Theatre Company

Genre: Community Theatre


Paradise at St Augustine's


Low Down

Taking the storyline and working and weaving your own magic can only work when the story is one robust enough to take it. Shakespeare fits the bill. When a professional disabled company then take that storyline, weave their own magic within it we can either be overtaken by sickly saccharine or become enchanted by their performance. Welcome to enchantment.


I kicked myself on a number of occasions when I walked past Paradise at St Augustine’s and was handed a flyer. A professional disabled company on the Fringe and I wasn’t aware? Shame on me. Yet there was a reluctance on my part to become fully excited and there were three reasons.

Firstly an hour and twenty minutes running time. It had been my experience that an hour could be a stretch for companies to maintain people’s interest. Secondly it was Shakespeare. Could we not have something which reflected the views and opinions of the company and perhaps gave us something quite unique? Finally the people handing out the flyers. They all appeared to be significantly older, perhaps parents of these actors. I was afraid of paternalism and watching something that was more about being worthy than being worthwhile.

I took the plunge when I realised that me, someone who ahs worked in equalities for some considerable time was guilty of that sheer prejudice and paternalism I would cast upon others. Take the plunge and go see I did.

Shakespeare, no matter who wrote them, is damned fine material. This is a script that has been developed with smatterings of Shakespearean dialogue when it fits the company and the direction. In the hands of Side by Side, this MULTI award winning Theatre Company and developed through the RSC open stages programme is simply fantastic. Loved it. See Shakespeare. See disabled acting. Perfect match…

No the company make a thing about being professional. I was there with the cast of another company who were also performing at St Augustine’s. Young though they were I was initially irritated by their willingness to clap everything they saw. Their oohs and their aahs the type of condescension that normally brings out the worst in me. Then a marvellous thing happened. I watched the show. As they are professional, this company deserve the oohs and the aahs but also a professional assessment.

There were parts of the performance which were weaker than others. I can remember most of the good bits and as for the actors special mention should go to Oberon/ Mark Slater – a man who’s expressions make Jack Dee look animated; Titania/Sarah Field – a woman who had the type of swagger from where I come from that would dry a washing; Peter/James Emtage – who’s command of his performances from the Director to a Fairie were wonderful; Max/Paul Taylor – who played the old musical hall gaga of keeping getting up to keep getting up perfectly; and Puck (Or is it PCUK) Ben Rees – who slipped a couple of times and THEN delivered, I swear (And I have directed this play) the BEST final speech I have ever seen. Picking people out was easy and hard as this, however was an ensemble piece worthy of the name. Despite a few hearing issues it was close to flawless.

The use of music was both inventive and refreshing to see set pieces done with such creativity. I particularly loved the bath/bed sequence (am telling no more – go and see it and find out); the chase sequence in the woods; and the piece accompanying This Is The Closest Thing To Crazy. The way in which it was performed meant we got creativity and not pity. This was so far away from paternalism and helping folk through things that I could not have been happier.

One criticism that I did have and think it could do with sorting is the scene changes. They did come across a tad am dram. We can cope with things being done differently and the art from another special needs project was good to look at.

By the end I was sneaking out for my next performance. I had a spring in my step. I gave myself such a hard time because I should have made this my top priority. The genre has been greatly helped by this type of theatre by disabled actors. It was not long enough, tackled the right level of creative project and will make me seek them out in the future. As an example of disabled theatre this as tremendously good. I would love to see them working with original material – as they have in the past – and will be keeping an eye out for them in the future. I would recommend that you do too.