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Lung Ha Reviews: Ian and Sheena

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Ian and Sheena  

Presented as part of National Theatre of Scotland's Scenes For Survival

Richard Conlon, Gail Watson Natalie MacDonald star in a lively lockdown follow-up to the smash-hit satire “My Left/Right Foot: The Musical” from writer/director Robert Softley Gale.

I really enjoyed Birds of Paradise’s hit “My Left/Right Foot” so I was very happy to see that Robert Softley Gale was bringing some sort of sequel to what I considered a flawless production. While filled with great humour that I could personally relate to, it also forces its audience to reflect on past and even present portrayals of disabled people in media.

In this ‘sequel’, Gail Watson, Natalie MacDonald and Richard Conlon appear via Zoom in a lively discussion about putting on “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time”. All three performers are incredible talents full of energy who are great at showcasing character development (even if poor MacDonald is barely acknowledged and called “the woman who only talks with her hands”).

The dismay of not being able to work, of not being with fellow actors and friends reminds of the theatre community’s reaction to the lockdown – the virus still causing the loss of jobs and the seemingly endless debates on the “importance of theatre”.

The NTS’s “Scenes for Survival” have been a great way to get the public to appreciate the hard work of theatre creators while theatres around the country remain closed. The only “bad” thing I found was that it was pretty short and I wanted to see more – I guess that’s a good thing. I was pleased to see captions and MacDonald doing the BSL interpretation as is and should be expected from any video shown on the BBC and meant for everyone.

It’s important to note that Birds of Paradise’s artistic vision is “of a culture where disabled artists are recognised for the excellence of their work, celebrated for the stories that they bring to the stage and are a vital part of the artistic landscape of Scotland.” Their show “My Left/Right Foot” highlighted how clueless both the general public and the arts overall are to disability representation. American actor Geena Davis said that films act as codes of conduct – teaching us how to deal with people who are “different” whether that is race or disability. The fact that in 2020 there’s still a severe resistance to discussing this issue makes me to think that more films created by people with disabilities should be out there. Or perhaps that is too simple a solution.

But I can’t tell you how many times I have been part of uncomfortable discussions because someone saw “my” disability in a film or play – including “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nigh-time”. A lot of uncomfortable discussions have been had with little change despite the often-enthusiastic support of those partaking. But I consider it a victory when I am asked about my autism and I can give an answer that makes the person decide to learn to be more empathetic and support the disabled in our fight to have a fulfilling life.

As a disabled actor myself, I personally don’t mind being called an inspiration if it means inspiring others to reflect on their own thoughts on the disabled. A safe environment isn’t just about performing without fear of the Covid-19 but, for me, it should be a place where my needs and the needs of others are not in a constant threat of being denied or ignored. Why do I feel that won’t happen in the next 10 or 20 years?

There hasn’t been a lot to smile about in 2020 so thank you Birds of Paradise, National Theatre of Scotland, Robert Softley Gale, Richard Conlon, Gail Watson, Natalie MacDonald, Seth Hardwick, Sophie Cooper, Maureen Dalton, Rebecca Hamilton, Aileen Sherry, Richard Price and all those credited at the end of the film – your work is valued both on and off camera and on and off stage. I hope to be on stage myself soon.

4.8 stars

Emma McCaffrey

Ian and Sheena is available to watch online by clicking the following link: https://www.nationaltheatrescotland.com/latest/ian-and-sheena