As I queued to enter the temporary big top in the car park of the Roundhouse in Camden for the performance of Belonging, the production of Graeae Theatre's collaboration with Brazilian circus troupe Circo Crescer e Viver, I over heard a fellow audience member as she said "It's going to be great to see a show that gives them [disabled people] a chance to prove what they can do". As a professional actor of 25 years, since being the first disabled actor to appear in a UK soap back in 1991, and the chair of the actor's union Equity's Deaf and Disabled Members Committee I know all too well just how high the standard of talent is within the disabled acting community. On top of that I have witnessed how many disabled actors have worked hard to add circus skills to their CV ever since the stunning acrobatics of the 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremonies, so I knew I was about to witness so much more than a chance for disabled actors to prove themselves. Oh yes, I was in for a theatrical treat from a cast made of entirely of disabled talent.
Belonging is the story of a group of people who visit a house that is about to be demolished and we are allowed to follow them as they explore their memories of the time they spent in this soon to disappear home. As the production proceeds we see snapshots of the varied character's personal recollections, performed using drama, song, dance and aerial acrobatics. Each tableau captures a story that resonates within the audience as the show travels from childhood memories of fun and play to the finding and loosing of love. All the elements of humanity are here, filtered through Graeae's veil of artistry and creativity. A challenging element of the show is the use of three languages, English, Spanish and Sign Language. This emphasises both the sense of belonging when the script can be understood, and exclusion during the segments when you have to guess at what is being said. It is a wonderfully creative way of exploring the experience of disability in the 21st Century, while adding to the overall excitement of the piece
Personal highlights were the two beautiful dance sequences, that are sensual, graceful and a joy to behold, and the high octane fight sequence, that mixes action with humour in an frenzy of aerial activity. Another beautiful section was the opening song by Sara Bentes, that took my breath away. I did feel that by being fully aware of the talent and skills of disabled people I lost an element of the wonder of the performance which I saw reflected in the faces of the mostly non-disabled audience. I suppose it's one of the joys of expecting the very best from my fellow disabled performers. However Belonging more than lived up to those expectations.
A truly breath taking collaboration between Graeae and Circo Cer e Viver that gives the audience a joyous, challenging and ethereal experience Belonging is so much more than a chance for the disabled cast to prove what they can do. It cleverly uses that disability as a feature of the show, using it to get laughs, gasps and sighs of emotion while entertaining and enthralling from the moment the show starts of the final curtain call. While I sometimes love my job as a reviewer, this being one of those nights, throughout the show I found myself wishing I was a few years younger so I might have played a part in this wonderful production. It was gratifying to not only see new young disabled talent proving their metal but to realise that this talent is being recognised on a global stage. Not that this is a reason to see this production. No that's because it is a smashing hour of entertainment, suitable for all the family that leaves you thoughtful, with a happy heart and a smiling face.
All Images © Patrick Baldwin 2014 - Cleared for use in this article via Graeae Threatre