Still No Idea

Lisa Hammond, Rachael Spence and Lee Simpson
Improbable Theatre
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs

Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence Credit: Camilla Greenwell
Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence Credit: Camilla Greenwell
Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence Credit: Camilla Greenwell

The inception for this play came when two female friends with identical haircuts decided to write a play but were struggling to find a suitable topic or form. By the end of the creative process, the pair had put together a stage presentation in collaboration with Lee Simpson from Improbable Theatre who adds perspective and inventive directorial input.

The women’s starting point was to go out on to the streets where they interviewed members of the public, asking them to suggest the kind of show in which the pair might star.

A series of quite predictable answers lead to a session of verbatim repetition by the performers that is now becoming relatively old hat. To do this, they use the familiar medium of music players and earbuds of a kind.

Quite where Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence found their random helpers is not explained, although those selected are largely characterised by inarticulacy and unintended comic effect.

The suggestions then turn into a few quick skits, leading to a second round which is slightly differently directed and delivers something closely akin to a bad TV soap opera.

Undeterred, Lisa who is disabled and spends a fair amount of time in a wheelchair, and Rachael who, as the blurb says, is not, keep casting around for way to entertain on stage.

Depending upon taste, a little song and dance routine will either leave you chuckling happily or driven to distraction. Either way, the tune is the kind that may be forgettable in the aesthetic sense but will stay around long after some of the more important aspects of the show have begun to fade away.

The final stages of an 80-minute performance redeem what might not otherwise rarely seem particularly original but in a manner that defeats Lisa’s ambition.

Despite the fact that disability has become far less stigmatised, with sports people and artistic performers often getting headlines, there is still a significant divide between the intentions of the public and the authorities and what happens in practice.

If a performer is disabled and noticeably different from the majority, it shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone to discover that what they really want is an opportunity to play someone with no disability.

A long-running TV series seems likely to prove fruitful, although after year upon year of promises, that goes the same way as everything else.

Ultimately, therefore, Still No Idea ends up as a meditation on what it means to be disabled in the UK today. Seemingly, however much effort people like Lisa Hammond put in, they will always be stereotyped or, in theatrical parlance, typecast. Perhaps the most significant lesson that she reluctantly learns from this exercise is to accept the inevitable, since the alternative is a permanent state of unhappiness. Looked at more positively, there has to be a chance that in the longer term plays like this might help to achieve that goal.

The strong message that viewers will take away from the theatre is that we should all reassess our views about and behaviour towards those with disabilities, possibly needing to do no more than treat them like everybody else which simple action will eventually bring about a major breaking down of barriers.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher