Newham disability theatre group examines frustrations and dreams of disabled people in new play

Act Up Newham theatre company welcomes disabled and able-bodied performers

Act Up Newham theatre company welcomes disabled and able-bodied performers - Credit: Archant

Outside the Box, the newest play by Act Up Newham!, delves into the real-life experiences of its cast members to explore with audiences how they feel about their futures.

The play examines not only the actors’ aspirations but the difficulties they have when their lives are negatively impacted by others.

“We have one person who wants to meet a friend but she is not being supported to do it,” explains Hannah Facey, the facilitator for the company, referring to one of the play’s scenerios.

“It is about how she feels people are trying to make her decisions for her rather than her being able to make her own.”

The show, which features a performance by singer/activist Dennis Queen after the interval, is making its premiere at Stratford Circus on Friday at 7pm.

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Act Up! is already “quite well known in Newham” says Hannah who added previous audiences have “really enjoyed the shows”.

The group has been together since 2008. There are currently seven actors (although six will be in Outside The Box) and the cast are aged between their late teens and early sixties.

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They perform in quality, thought-provoking theatre that challenges stereotypes about disabled people – and performers do not shy away from tackling the controversial issues.

Act Up hit the headlines in 2012 after a play they created criticising Atos Healthcare – who previously administered the Work Capability Assessments (WCA) – was banned by Newham council as the sponsor was Atos.

And last year it performed a show at the Mayor of London’s Liberty Festival called Dear Mr Cameron in which a 15 minutes performance was created from individual actor monologues to the prime minister.

Hannah says that members devise their own play ideas, which are then combined into one script by writer Trevor Lloyd.

She adds that most of the performers in Act Up Newham! come with “an interest in performing and doing drama”, having sometimes been overlooked or only offered minor roles in mainstream productions.

“They [casting theatre] think they canot cannot perform and can’t do well but actually they can do very well,” says Hannah.

Inclusivity is the ethos behind the theatre. “One person who hears but has communication difficulties speaks using signalong – they speak and sign at the same time the key words of a sentence but not all the words,” Hannah explains. “Often the other members translate in their lines or someone off stage translates when she does a longer monologue.”

She adds that audiences will find the show interesting. “It will be a great event – it will surprise you.”

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