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FringeReview UK 2018

Still No Idea

Improbable Theatre and Royal Court Theatre

Genre: Contemporary, Devised, Live Music, New Writing, Short Plays, Sketch Comedy, Stand-Up, Theatre

Venue: Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs


Low Down

Lisa Hammond’s and Rachael Spence’s Still No Idea is co-written with Improbable Theatre’s artistic director Lee Simpson in Royal Court’s Upstairs theatre. Set and lit (both by Improbable) in a pigeon-grey-painted rehearsal room with low and higher chairs, a cheap keyboard and picture frame. Till November 17th.


Nearly a decade ago lifelong friends Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence pioneered a hybrid of stand-up, devised and verbatim theatre interviewing people on the streets, asking them about disability and what stories they’d spin from each other’s prompts. Hammond is four feet tall and uses a wheelchair though when she steps out of it she’s accused of being a benefits cheat. Spence is non-disabled.


With deadly faux-innocence they play with narrative to make up a work that can’t make up its mind. No Idea’s been followed up naturally with Still No Idea. It’s not Hammond and Spence who’ve no idea in this work co-written with Improbable Theatre’s artistic director Lee Simpson in Royal Court’s Upstairs theatre. Set and lit (both by Improbable) in a pigeon-grey-painted rehearsal room with low and higher chairs, a cheap keyboard and picture frame, it’s a workout on disability.


This is a wickedly-shaped set of narratives with lietmotifs and running gags with a devastating silence near the end. Hilarity aside, it’s about killing people. Blame the government. But that’s just the half of it.


A relaxed performance start pervades the whole eighty-minute show – mass-observation on speed. Disarming narratives gifted by the public morph from comedy duos from Ant and Dec to Morecombe and Wise, to the more sophisticated Arts Council spiel ‘I can see you in a small theatre.’ There’s prophesy.


There’s also the way Hammond admitting to shoplifting (helpfully detailed) or going into a sex club is part of how she’s perceived, freaky funny: ‘wow’. Spence admitting to shoplifting or sex club and it’s a different ‘wow’: disapproving. Which suggests Spence is being judged as a human, Hammond as an act, or worse.


Such stereotyping’s unnerving, focusing on Hammond’s comical face. Hammond’s answer is her ‘cheeky face’ music hall song, that amalgam of all prejudice turned on its head with Spence pretending she can’t play the keyboard accompaniment. ‘It’s little and it’s round and it’s quite close to the ground’ which is nothing to:


See the smile of the paedophile when I walk into the pub

He’ll be glad to pretend he’s Dad as I give his knob a rub.


and that’s the polite part. In yer face has nothing on it. Hammond’s point is memorably chilling to those who assert normative height or lack a wheelchair. It’s how we don’t see disability.


Taking Lisa as a fictive actor (really?) we’re treated to what happens in that high-vis world of swirling choreographed wheelchairs around the Paralympics. That world that pops up occasionally with other disabilities on Strictly but mostly snaps shut as soon as the Paralympics end. What are you complaining about? You’ve had a good run.


In other words invisible visibility; and it’s regressed over the decade. More tokenism, though that’s tailing off; less honesty. The duo devise a fiction, only one suspects it isn’t. When fictive actor Lisa gets work on an Eastenders-style show she finds gradually she has no storyline, after a fast-forward of meetings with the lead writer (Spence) over five years. Indeed the writer imagines her wheelchair having one, but Lisa? When Lisa suggests writing one for her as if not her, the writer’s incredulous.


When an hour in you might fear a drop of energy the duo spring the witness of colleagues, then words screened on the stage’s back wall of real casualties: those who’ve died of heart-attacks, or committed suicide as a result of benefits withdrawn, some whilst in hospital critically ill. In one case redemption comes too late.


Enacting devisings by colleagues for a change we’re gifted a section of what you might call normal thriller scenarios: missing sisters, cops and undercover agents: by peers of course, creatively blind to typecasting.


With a different Cheeky Face song the onus is thrown back, a lady from Brighton asking what she can do. Imagine – it won’t cost you anything but of course costs no less than everything you’ve not imagined.


Timely – again – fizzing and ferocious, it’s also a tender affirmation of friendship, laced with non-stop jokes like ‘Lisa would give money to a homeless person’ one friend notes. Rachael’s ‘That makes a change. They usually give money to you’ typically undercuts pietism. Such self-ironising ensures Lisa and Rachael get the jokes in before anyone else. Friendly as this show is, its smile goes for the jugular. The battle to overcome all prejudice has only begun: from government cuts seemingly designed to kill, to the liberal creative industry’s own shutters. Laughter’s the best start to killing ignorance. See it.