Barbara Honeybone is more than happy to cross the line with her shockingly offensive (but often hilarious) remarks, but she very much draws it at the HS2 rail line planning to steam through her family home. In their first staging of a new and original play, Deaf and disabled theatre company Ramps on the Moon present a cheeky and heartwarming story about the tragedy of refusing progress.
It takes place in the Northamptonshire village of Syresham, a rural area home to a string of wacky individuals with a conservative way of thinking. Barbara (Eileen Nicholas) is foul-mouthed and throws out racial slurs like she throws rocks at children, while Kevin (Mark Benton) is desperate to put on his meat raffle, can’t say Rastamouse and calls his son Liam (Joseph Langdon) a homophobic slur which rhymes with gender. While he’s all too happy to take the purchase order and venture off to Thailand to find a new wife (which, naturally, he decides to reduce to her body parts), Barbara despairs at all the younger individuals fleeing the countryside and curses at the ‘townies’ who want to come in and take her property from her. The extra sting comes with her eldest grandson Peter (Philip Labey) being one of the HS2 workers trying to force his gran to concede defeat.
To add to the subplots, the conflict-averse Harry (played by Maximilian Fairley, who gives a standout performance with his brilliantly dry and frank delivery) doesn’t care too much for all the politics, and wants to spend his time with Liam’s amazingly outspoken sister Debbie (Faye Wiggan) instead. Oh, and Peter is working out his queer identity, too.
When we’re not watching a domestic against the backdrop of Lily Arnold’s fantastic forest set, we’re shown another act from the village show, which is where the play is its most ridiculous. A giant effigy of the late Queen descends from the heavens at one point, there’s an unbelievable Cher drag act, and another musical number comprises Barbara telling the HS2 workers to “f*** right off”. There is an over-reliance on some jokes (particularly concerning Princess Diana), but otherwise, when the humour is not shocking, it is utterly unpredictable.
Part of that, arguably, comes down to the diversity of Village Idiot’s company. The commitment towards platforming Deaf and disabled talent comes with a social justice, culturally sensitive and politically correct mindset, which doesn’t exactly align with Debbie dropping the c-bomb within minutes of the performance starting. It also works in regards to the central theme of independence, as disabled couple Harry and Debbie make it clear they want the freedom to be able to make their mistakes. It’s an important issue worth highlighting, in that even the most caring family members can prevent disabled people from having autonomy.
The same goes for Liam and Peter’s LGBTQ storyline, even if it is a little clumsy in parts (far too much emphasis is given to a man named Jasper, for example, who we never actually meet) and never really tied up by the end of the play. The story’s conclusion is rushed, with one particular twist being a convenient way in which to resolve all outstanding subplots in one clean sweep.
Though that twist does, however, underscore a poignant message: that for some in the countryside, to lose future generations to progressive ideologies and moves to towns is to lose a local and cultural identity which makes up a key part of themselves – a loss which is completely unsurvivable. Is there a solution to this rigid way of living? Well, playwright Samson Hawkins doesn’t offer one, but a wonderful and provocative tale instead.
Village Idiot is now playing at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 6 May. All remaining performances are captioned with recorded audio description, and take place in a relaxed environment.
A ‘Pay What You Can’ performance is scheduled for 25 April, with a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreted performance taking place on 28 April.
Production Images: Marc Brenner.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Village Idiot’ 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.