Lisa Hammond, Rachael Spence and Improbable Theatre have created one of those shows that reminds you what theatre is for. Inspired by their real life friendship and experiences, Lisa and Rachael have set out to make a show together. They just haven’t quite decided what it’s about yet. What follows is something crazy. It’s almost like a sketch show, but not quite. It feels improvised but it isn’t entirely. It’s inspired by the words of real people, but not completely. And it features a spritely cockney song by the cheekiest face in town.
The duo wants to make a show about anything, absolutely anything, other than disability. But Still No Idea makes it clear that for Lisa, a performer with a disability, this is almost unavoidable. The pair seeks material for their new show from a number of different sources and the result is a hilarious and razor sharp observational comedy that hones in on how people talk to and about people with disabilities. Hammond and Spence carry the show with their endless charm and chemistry and make sure that we are invited to laugh along with their potent and provocative satire. It’s not all focused on disability though and some of their best material is about human foibles, most memorably a section about the heartbreak of being wow’d off. Once you know the feeling, you will never forget.
The best parts of the show use verbatim stories collected from members of the general public after they have been asked to explain what might happen in a play starring the two performers. The pair gently satirises and mocks their wild stories whilst gracefully understanding that they are told by normal, well-meaning people. Acting out the general public’s literary masterpieces proves hilarious and Rachael Spence has a joyous time pointing out their dreadful grammar as well as starring in their surreal stories. But therein lies the problem. Whilst Rachael gets to play her dream roles, the general public leave Lisa out of the action.
Another sequence follows an entirely ‘fictional’ actress (also conveniently named Lisa) who is working on a completely and utterly ’fictional’ soap opera. And through the lens of this ironic ‘fictitious’ tale, it satirises Lisa’s three-year struggle just to feature in her own story. At the mercy of writers and producers, she is left out of the action yet again.
Lisa being left out is the norm in an industry that uses performers with disabilities as ‘inspiration porn’, satisfied to show people with disabilities on screen without providing them with roles of any real worth. And the experience of having a disability is extended beyond just the performing arts industry. Still No Idea gets to the heart of the matter. Our perceptions on disability in society will not change until people with disabilities are included in our stories in a genuine manner, not just to satiate the need to tick boxes. Unquestionably, the arts industry has a huge responsibility to play in this. Still No Idea is not about asking for sympathy, it just wants to tell you exactly how it is, and make you laugh along the way.