How Do You Make a Cup of Tea?

Kellan Frankland
Graeae

Dame Harriet Walter as Sally and Mandy Colleran as Frankie Credit: Graeae Theatre Company

From April to June last year, Graeae, the theatre company that since 1980 has pioneered the creation of theatre for and by D/deaf and disabled performers, streamed Crips Without Constraints, a series of specially created monologues in response to the COVID pandemic and among the first to be created remotely. This is the first of Crips Without Constraints Part 2, a second series of five new plays.

How Do You Make a Cup of Tea? isn’t a monologue but presents wheelchair-user Mandy Colleran as actress Frankie who thinks she has been cast as a disabled character called Emily, taking a Zoom call with Sally, another actress played by Harriet Walter, who is doing research for the same role for which she has actually been cast. The misunderstandings and awkwardness and Sally’s insensitivity may produce lots of laughs but this is also a very serious piece about appropriate casting.

There are strong performances from both actresses who give a reality to their characters that manages to embrace Frankie’s initial naïvety and the grotesquery that satirises Sally’s approach to understanding character as well as her condescension and unawareness and, as Sally becomes increasingly manic, director Stephen Bailey encourages a farcical intensity.

That element of caricature may seem extreme but it perhaps makes it easier to carry the discussion beyond the parameters of this exchange into the wider consideration of casting and opportunity that Kellan Frankland’s play is concerned with: can a person without disability play a disabled person, a hearing person a deaf one, properly? If an actor with the same disability as the character is available, why cast someone without it?

On successive Tuesdays in the coming weeks, four more short plays will become available in the second series of Crips Without Constraints and each Thursday a vodcast will go online in which two Deaf artists explore the theme of that week’s play in BSL (supported by subtitles and voiceover for those without it). Can a good actor play any role irrespective of colour, gender, background or ethnicity? Then one must ask, should they? We don’t expect someone to be a trained lawyer, a bus driver or an actual murderer to play those roles, but is that missing the point? It is worth watching this vodcast too for these are questions we have to take seriously. Whose responsibility is it to equalise opportunity?

Reviewer: Howard Loxton