The packed audience buzzed with anticipation as we sat in the Purcell room in the Southbank's Queen Elizabeth Hall waiting for the opening show of the Unlimited Festival, a showcase of the very best from the disability arts scene. The festival organizers had a treat in store for us too. The Dinner Party Revisited is a live art performance piece created by the enfant terrible of the disability arts scene, Katherine Araniello that builds on her past works using video and performance art to challenge society's view of disability. If that sounds serious and worthy boy are you wrong. Ms. Araniello has a knack for also challenging our ideas of what art is and tonight she excelled herself!
From the moment Katherine Araniello, with her shock of orange hair, appears and prowls across the stage in her power wheelchair an atmosphere of the surreal descends and the strangest dinner party ever begins. Ms. Araniello's mind is home to a twisted world of the weird and it is let out to play on the Purcell Room's stage tonight. As each guest arrives, in the guise of a talking head character played by Ms. Aramiello via a series of TV screens, we find ourselves sucked into that mind and we fall enthralled by the beautiful strangeness. This anarchic art performance has a serious heart. While the audience laughs as the show rushes forward at break neck speed we unconsciously find our preconceptions and stereotypes challenged by references to the real day to day experiences of disabled people. Each nightmare "guest" is a hideous caricature of people every disabled audience member knows all too well. No one is safe. Paralympians, disability activists, professional victims, charity loving celebs and even those who find us impaired types sexually alluring fall under Ms. Araniello's withering gaze and are captured with cruel perfection. The video elements run alongside a superb live cast performance that equally challenges and breaks the rules.
The use of technology with the piece mirrors the lives of many disabled people who rely on it to live and function, and the live performance explores the human element of the need for care and assistance that allows disabled people to survive independently. Throughout the piece we also learn that "good help is hard to find", as the cast who are obviously meant to be supporting Ms. Araniello during the show prove less than conscientious. Even the BSL interpreter joins in the mad cap action, stealing booze, eating a packed lunch and holding private discussions with the Deaf audience members. All of this mirrors the experiences of those disabled people who rely on high level care, but portrayed in a way that disarms the entire audience. As the show closes with the video guests playing in simultaneous cacophony while the cast dances wildly to Demis Rousous's Forever and Ever all of us in the audience know how lucky we have been to have been invited to this party.
Katherine Araniello is a leading light of the Disability Arts and Live Arts Scenes and deservingly so. She challenges and pokes fun at the stereotypes of disability with a surgical eye forcing the audience, non-disabled and disabled alike, to reconsider their preconceptions. I know I was, and I also haven't laughed as much in ages. I left the show uplifted and filled with the spirit of Punk. The skill of Katherine Araniello's work is to do this. The Dinner Party Revisited is a rare thing, art that changes the world for the better while making the heart and soul sing.
Image Copyright, Rachel Cherry, use by permission.