The recent highly successful Bath Comedy Festival wasn’t all stand-up comics, though I did see some really good examples of that ilk. Natural Theatre’s Participation Department (posh new name for our education projects), assisted by some generous Arts Council funding, organised a very exciting gathering as part of the festivities. This was Natural Diversions, a pilot scheme for a new street theatre group made up entirely of professional actors with disabilities.
Nearly thirty hopefuls turned up at the auditions and the lucky half dozen were invited to spend a week in our lovely new studio in Widcombe, learning about our style of theatre and creating some comic scenarios of their own. Participants from all over the country soon found that Bath is not that easy to negotiate, what with its fine selection of cobbled streets (a real bone-shaking experience in a wheelchair), the plethora of A-boards on the pavements (unexpected hazards for those with impaired sight) and the quaint little individual shops that come complete with an insurmountable step on the threshold.
Some great ideas emerged and on the Sunday the team invaded the streets around the Abbey with a selection of somewhat bizarre but highly amusing try-outs. Thus we had a genuinely blind pirate with two eye patches, guided not by the conventional Golden Retriever but by a guide parrot played by a particularly diminutive lady in a wheelchair, sporting a fine beak and an unfeasible amount of featherage.
Elsewhere, traffic wardens on mobility scooters were giving out daffodils to motorists who had parked thoughtfully and not in the disabled bays, and two fully equipped mountaineers in electric wheelchairs were seen attempting to scale the dizzy heights of Union Street where even some of the bigger stores which should know better still sport the aforementioned awkward steps.
Add a mad archaeologist or two and a whole group of film noire characters who would never survive Central Casting’s stubborn obsession with ‘normality’ and you have a full set of daft incursions into the public realm, all of which, as well as causing amusement, had something to say about our attitudes towards disability.
Given sufficient funding, the project is set to continue. Next time, they are planning to dress up as a flock of sheep, presumably an ironic take on the fact that disabled people are all individuals, just like everyone else. And can be just as funny.