‘Perfect Show for Rachel’ review – Improvised show for learning disabled woman presses all the right buttons


Respectfully, whether you enjoy Zoo Co Theatre’s latest production isn’t all that important. As the name suggests, Perfect Show for Rachel is more focused on ensuring Rach, a 31-year-old learning disabled woman, is satisfied with what unfolds over the course of the next 70 minutes. She sits behind a desk with – I’m told – 39 buttons, many of them instructing an ensemble of performers to act out a whimsical routine.

It quickly does away with the formalities of theatre. Held in a relaxed environment with an integrated British Sign Language (BSL) performer, it’s incredibly fluid in its structure – it kind of has to be for an off-the-cuff show of this nature. In a brief introduction before handing over to Rachel, sister and Zoo Co artistic director Flo O’Mahony talks about Rach’s “vision” for the show.

It isn’t making a serious, elaborate argument – quite the opposite, in fact – but if you’re looking for one, then Perfect Show certainly demonstrates an artistic vision from a learning disabled woman which we rarely see in theatre. It’s fun, inclusive, and most of all, refreshing.

The creation of a show live on the spot is akin to Showstopper! with its comedic, unpredictable mayhem, and the clever appeal that not one show is the same as another. At the press performance, we are, at first, full of anticipation, as Rachel presses the button for a ‘snack cabaret’. Actors don costumes and plead with Rach to pick her favourite snack out of a choice of olives, Bourbon biscuits, or a packet of Walkers’ Ready Salted crisps. As the cast sing ‘make a choice’ with increasing intensity for several minutes, Rachel gives us a knowing smile. It’s certainly a different kind of anticipation to what you’d expect in any other show, and there’s something thrilling in that.

Her most popular choice is an action titled ‘Who’s Got The Bag’. Pressed a whopping four times over the course of the hour, performers throw backpacks around while dancing to a garage track, before one of them gets sprayed with a water pistol. Even Rachel’s mum Wendy – who otherwise is sat next to her, helping Rach with her decisions – is involved in the dancing.

Other highlights include asking musical director Mark Aspinall “why don’t you get a job?” (which saw him sacked and booted off the set on two occasions), investigating which one of the performers has farted, and Deaf actor Stephen Collins donning a white wig and busting some moves to Kylie Minogue’s smash hit, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”. It may be all for Rach, but we can all connect to the notion of ensuring she has the best time, and in so doing, it’s easy for us to enjoy ourselves too, and there’s considerable beauty in that.

Not only that, but some routines are unexpectedly powerful and emotive. There’s a Dirty Dancing number which concludes with Wendy being held up by the ensemble (as magical as the movie version), and one of the last buttons pressed commands Ethan Pascal Peters to deliver a tender rendition of “Hallelujah” as video and images of Rachel’s father float on screen behind him.

It’s moving, and out of a flurry of different scenes, an endearing vision is created that’s one of joy, love, comedy and community. The instruction for us to sign ‘Well done Rachel’ at the end of the performance is very well deserved indeed (so enthusiastic was my signing that the pen I was using to make notes was flung into the air and never seen again). It’s the perfect show for Rachel, and it’s a brilliant show for us.

Perfect Show for Rachel is now playing at the Barbican Centre until 26 November.

All performances are relaxed, with creative captioning, live captioning and a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter integrated into every performance.

An audio described performance is due to take place on 26 November.

Production Images: Danny Kaan.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Perfect Show for Rachel’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and while I know Stephen Collins in a personal capacity, all opinions stated above are honest and my own.


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