Ramps on the Moon is consortium of six National Portfolio Organisation theatres with a mission to create work centred on D/deaf and disabled performers and creative team members.
The six partners are New Wolsey Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Sheffield Theatres, Birmingham Rep and Nottingham Playhouse. And they work with Graeae Theatre Company – long established leader in the field of breaking down barriers, challenging preconceptions and boldly placing D/deaf and disabled artists centre stage.
Each year – this is the third – one of the partners takes the lead in presenting a play which then tours to the other venues in the group. I was hugely impressed with Tommy which I caught last year at Stratford East. But I think, Our Country’s Good, which I travelled to Nottingham Playhouse to see last week is, if anything even better. Catch it if you possibly can during its forthcoming tour.
Director Fiona Buffini and her advisers have made Our Country’s Good as accessible as it could possibly be in a comprehensive way which would have been almost unimaginable only a few years ago. Every word of the script is simultaneously projected at the sides of the playing area or upstage behind the action. At the same time there’s audio description (by a cast member) for audience members who need it. The entire show is integrally signed too so that if a character is speaking, someone somewhere on stage will be interpreting it in BSL – and occasionally the speaker him or herself will be doing both. If the character is communicating in BSL then, similarly, someone else on stage will speak those lines and in many cases the switching is balletically slick – and part of the theatrical joy of the show.
So much for meeting the needs of the audience, who also – incidentally – have access to a touch table in the foyer with fabric and set samples to feel.
At the same time around sixty per cent of the cast have disabilities of various sorts. In this context their diverse impairments are an enhancement rather than any sort of disadvantage. Garry Robson, snarling and yearning, from his wheelchair, for example is the most convincing Midshipman Harry Brewer I’ve ever seen. And Will Lewis who plays John Arscott uses his distinctive voice to poignant effect. Emily Rose Smith as Duckling Smith signs her anguish when Harry dies so passionately that we all share it. And Caroline Parker who does a lot of interpreting in this show – switching effortlessly between BSL and speech is terrific to watch.
The whole thing is a glorious celebration of the talents of these people and it goes without saying (or at least it should do) that there is absolutely no sense in which this is any sort of sub-standard theatre. Actually, it’s cutting edge.
So Ramps on the Moon is living up to its wonderfully optimistic name. It really is creating ramps – ways in – to fabulous, moon-like opportunities to talented people of all sorts. Bravo! I’m looking forward to the next show, already.