FlawBored’s It’s A Motherf**king Pleasure regrets to inform you that you may be suffering from what they call “able anxiety”. That is, the awkward, overbearing, over-apologetic tripping over oneself which some non-disabled people and organisations are prone to in a bid to appear truly inclusive. Here, it is daringly deconstructed in a smart, scathing satire which spares no one.
But first, the show needs to ensure it is accessible to everyone. Samuel Brewer, one of two blind performers on stage, explains his access needs and the social model of disability (that someone is disabled by their environment, not their condition) while earplugs are thrown out to a noise-sensitive audience member in Row D to accommodate the loud. word. by. word. intonation for the lipreader in Row B (a groan-worthy faux pas for this Deaf audience member, but that is rather the point). The use of “integrated creative audio description” illustrates actors based on “vibes”, and on top of all that, John the rogue captioner is interjecting with his own opinions throughout the production.
So that’s the social model and the challenge of conflicting access needs out of the way before we’ve even reached the crux of the play, which is demonstrative of the whistle-stop tour of disability politics the show offers that – refreshingly – goes beyond the ‘Disability 101’ many productions led by disabled people are pressured into covering. The difficulty is that in satirising the things non-disabled people could be doing a lot less of, there isn’t space in this production for inferring or stating what we want non-disabled people to do.
Don’t be anxious or flustered around disabled people is one obvious takeaway, but equally, the gags around conflicting access needs runs the risk of suggesting we shouldn’t try to make spaces accessible for as many disabled people as possible. To put it another way: I’m not too sure we should be mocking this specific intention from non-disabled people, even if it’s presented in a way which is patronising (we can address that without accidentally implying multiple accommodations are a bad thing).
After touching upon these disability issues, the story of a PR disaster at a company known as RIZE becomes the scenario which is dissected by Brewer and his co-stars Chloe Palmer and Aarian Mehrabani from the sidelines. They’ve “done an ableism” and ultimately decide the best way to rectify that is through a series of new services which are flat out disability simulation (essentially making everything dark so sighted people can simulate blindness), backed by blind social media influencer Ross (Mehrabani) and supported by a permanently bubbly HR official Helen (a performance nailed by Palmer) who’s all too keen to demonstrate she’s an ally. If that alone wasn’t outrageous enough, the trio push the idea to jet black extremes, before grounding it – albeit a tamer version – in reality, to show this nonsense is actually real.
All this satirical chaos is pulled off with a strong technical team, with particular praise warranted for stage manager Lauren Hastings and Dan Light’s creative video and caption design (although at times, the lighting does obscure and affect the readability of the occasional dark red font). Cara Evans’ design is fairly standard, though the use of eight yellow squares to denote an office space is rather unusual.
On the whole, It’s A Motherf**king Pleasure explores hot topics rarely explored on stage. It convincingly argues that “able anxiety” underpins a lot of issues facing disabled people, and that non-disabled people would much rather pursue performative or simulative acts to ‘understand’ disability than genuinely listen to disabled people and discuss what is truly meaningful. To refer back to the point about a lack of emphasis on what non-disabled people should be doing around disabled people, there is an issue that the play struggles to say anything particularly substantial away from the hyperbole. Non-disabled viewers may interpret this as being a heavily meta point (there sure is a lot of metatheatre here with its almost ‘play within a play setup), but I sense fellow disabled audience members will be able to fill in the gaps and obtain a much deeper meaning from it all than other people watching. Even at the very end, the takeaway for non-disabled people appears to be a general message not to be a muppet around disabled people and fawn over them, which for a show so hilariously hyperbolic, just strikes me as incredibly reductionist.
I knew what it was fully getting at, but I wonder if non-disabled people will connect with all the nuance. In fairness, there’s definitely lessons for everyone in the simple fact every demographic is targeted here, not least in its cracking conclusion.
The trio lampoon Arts Council funding as a successful use of the disability card, and even us reviewers are safe from the play’s edgy commentary, as they take aim at Lynn Gardner and the Evening Standard’s praise for a show they haven’t even seen yet, and suggest we give the show three stars as a minimum or otherwise be branded ableist or a colourful four-lettered expletive.
Fortunately, as unashamed as the show itself, this disabled critic is willing to go one further in his rating, without any able anxiety attached.
It’s A Motherf**king Pleasure is now playing at VAULT Festival until 26 February. All performances are relaxed, captioned and audio described.
Production Images: FlawBored.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘It’s A Motherf**king Pleasure’ 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 all opinions stated above are honest and my own.