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From many writers, a play such as this might seem an uncharacteristic attempt to play the sentiment card by disabled-led theatre company Graeae, which normally has no truck with judgments such as “excellent, considering . . .”. But one of the strengths of Richard Cameron as a playwright is that he is unashamed of sentiment without ever tipping into syrupy sentimentality.
He is interested in how the mostly disabled women of the Crippleage in Edgware get on with each other and the world, but in exactly the same way as he is interested in any other group of people he writes about.
So, while Joan (Sophie Partridge) may allow herself to be fleeced by an art teacher in one strand of the action set in 1965, or Lily (Karina Jones) invents a fake history of her blindness to make herself more worthy of her young Royal Navy beloved in 1940, Sally’s (Sonia Cakebread) neurosis about fire and Rose’s (Lizzie Smoczkiewicz) yearning to belong are mostly unrelated to their physical
The Crippleage was one of those institutions that combined genuine philanthropy with the inescapable whiff of the workhouse. While the women’s work of making and selling handmade flowers was intended to foster independence, they lived cheek by jowl in plywood cubicles where curtains gave some concessions to modesty but none to privacy; the concern that led to its foundation did not extend to its design, with “14 stone steps [leading into] a factory with nigh on 200 ’andicapped women”.
Wartime brought its own privations, with the factory converted to turn out rivets, and resources in such scarcity that young Alice (Nicola Miles-Wildin) cannot obtain a new leg calliper, although the new air raid shelter offers a chance of illicit
assignations. The fact that the two plotlines are set a generation apart is significant.
Peter Rowe and Jenny Sealey’s production (under the joint auspices of the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich, and arriving in London after a short tour) is less formally adventurous than most of Graeae’s recent work. (Early this year, their revival of Sarah Kane’s Blasted rediscovered the challenge of that work’s vision.) But it serves as a reminder that “Issues” matter, not as abstract principles but because they apply to people.
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