Half a pizza with mushrooms, salami, olives and cheese as toppings, with performers on stage making up the other half of the pizza. In the background is a space scene with an astronaut and planets.
Disabled Artists' Festival of Theatre review: Five Slices of Another Life
Laughs bounced off the walls when inside jokes about being disabled were told on stage.
Disabled Artists' Festival of Theatre review: Five Slices of Another LifeEJ Barrett0:00|0:00
If you attended 5 Slices Of Another Life at the Disabled Artists' Festival of Theatre uninformed about any of the facets of the disabled experience, you left the theatre educated by the obvious and enthusiastic crowd participation.
The show consisted of 10 short plays, each covering different aspects of the disabled experience. There was representation of four different types of mobility aids, neurodiversity and mental illness, pain and anxiety, blind and low vision all written into the play, which was written and performed by people with these specific disabilities.
For those of us who could relate, laughs bounced off the walls when jokes specific to the disabled community were told, and landed with gusto. Unanimous groans reverberated across the theatre at the well-meaning but very ignorant and offensive able-bodied characters.
Comical one-liners that are only usually reserved for sharing in safe and familiar company were shared in a public format that enabled the diverse audience to leave feeling held, uplifted and informed.
But, more than that, and unexpectedly so, I learnt more about my own life as a disabled person. I was able to see my experience of existing in a society that is hostile to disabled people reflected back at me. It gave me permission to identify and denounce the times in my life when I had been excluded and harmed due to lack of accessible infrastructure, care and understanding. All of this was done with even doses of humour and sober, thoughtful delivery. This combination, in conjunction with the incredible audience, meant that it never felt too heavy. It felt like camaraderie.
For those of us who could relate, laughs bounced off the walls when jokes specific to the disabled community were told, and landed with gusto
Accessibility was written into every corner of the delivery. A nine-page pamphlet outlining what to expect was available to patrons, including warnings about lights, sound, other trigger warnings, and an explanation of some of the jokes.A verbal brief was given to the audience before the show, outlining what to expect. Audio descriptions or NZSL interpreters were available at every show except the “relaxed” show, where the audience was permitted to move around and make noises if they needed to be comfortable.
Touch tours were available for blind and low vision patrons to touch the set before the play started.Wellbeing Wardens were stationed at the front of the audience, who were available if audience members required support. The show was stationed in a wheelchair accessible venue.
I spoke to someone at the end who still had tears in their eyes. “It had it all!” they declared. “I cried, I laughed, it had it all.”
The opening scene, played by Dane Isherwood, was a highly effective short piece that showcased distress and agony in a way that put the otherwise bubbly audience in grave silence.
Hamish Boyle’s capacity to break down the fourth wall, engage with the audience and switch between multiple characters all in the same scene was outstanding. Helen Vivienne Fletcher and Shaun Swain played an emerging inter-abled romance in one scene, and the electricity between the two of them was fire. The conversations between Henrietta Bollinger and Hilary Norris were real and relatable, discussing how the life of a disabled person is often entirely bogged down by bureaucracy, reiterating that it is the systems that make us disabled. The experience of disabled people young and old was expressed very effectively. The fight for age-related accessibility was displayed as the same fight as disability-related accessibility, highlighting that we will all experience disability at some time in our lives. Steff Green’s writing and Susan Williams’ performance of the blind prophet was a highly thought-provoking satirical piece that was perfectly cast, leaving no stereotype unmentioned. I spoke to someone at the end who still had tears in their eyes. “It had it all!” they declared. “I cried, I laughed, it had it all.”
The Director’s Note from Jo Marsh in the show program stated: “The joy of allowing all of our disabilities to be shown, not only onstage but also within the rehearsal room, with zero judgement, has been both rewarding and, quite frankly, a relief. The cast and crew alike are able to create such amazing mahi with their abilities being listened to, understood and catered for.” I can inform the reader with absolute confidence that this was reflected in the audience experience.
Writers: Henrietta Bollinger, Hamish Boyle, Helen Vivienne Fletcher, Steff Green & Angela Pope
Performers: Henrietta Bollinger, Dane Isherwood, Hamish Boyle, Hilary Norris, Susan Williams, Helen Vivienne Fletcher & Shaun Swain
Producers: Helen Vivienne Fletcher & Jo Marsh
Director: Jo Marsh
Production / Stage Manager: Laniet Swann
Designer / AV: Jules Daniel
Lighting Design: Jo Marsh
Deaf Consultant: Theresa Cooper
NZSL: Angela Murray & Byron Gibbons
Blind Consultant: Susan Williams
Audio Description: Sameena Zehra
Graphic Design: Hamish Boyle
Photographers: Scott Maxim & Saph Taylor
About: Showing at Bats Theatre as part of DAFT: Disabled Artists’ Festival of Theatre, a festival in Aotearoa New Zealand made by and for disabled people. DAFT is in its second season, produced by actor comedian playwright Susan Williams, who staged their solo show in 2021, and multi-award winning poet and comedian Kate Spencer aka Creatif Kate. DAFT ran between 16-30 September, 2023.