sat 13/07/2024

My Left Right Foot: The Musical, Brighton Festival 2019 review - foul-mouthed comic brilliance | reviews, news & interviews

My Left Right Foot: The Musical, Brighton Festival 2019 review - foul-mouthed comic brilliance

My Left Right Foot: The Musical, Brighton Festival 2019 review - foul-mouthed comic brilliance

Scottish production that reaps comedy gold from society's awkwardness about disablity

The cast in cheerful repose© Summer Dean

My Left Right Foot tiptoes right to the precipice of massive offense. For some, it tumbles right in. During the interval audience members can be heard tutting at the amount of times “the c-word” is casually thrown around. But it’s not just the swearing.

The play makes mayhem over our awkwardness around disability while also ruthlessly sending up institutionalised inclusivity. Much of the humour derives from crossing lines not usually crossed.

The action takes place in a municipal hall, with the set detailed and realistic, blandly grubby, right down to the ancient radiator and cork board of notices. The Kirktoon amateur dramatics group, we’re informed in the “fuck”-filled opening song, have never won the Scottish Amateur Dramatics Association’s annual one act play competition. Usually lead dictatorially by Sheena (Gail Watson), this year squeak-voiced trainee occupational therapist Amy (Katie Barnett) has the brainwave of embracing “diversity”. Thus they decide to interpret the life of Christy Brown via Daniel Day Lewis’s Oscar-winning portrayal in the 1989 film My Left Foot.

It is, of course, a PC minefield they negotiate catastrophically, especially when they ask local disabled man Chris (American actor Christopher Imbrosciano, who has cerebral palsy) to guide ex-professional actor Grant (Neil Thomas) in the lead role. Chris, no saint, is motivated by his desire to get laid and, from there, the play takes any opportunity it can to spark laughter nailing human ineptitude.

Accompanied by pianist Alex Parker against a backing track, the songs are outrageous. There’s a couple focusing on clichéd Irishness (“We’re Oirish!”) and many that play on the filmic tradition of able-bodied actors being lavishly praised for portrayals of disability. “My inner spazz’ll dazzle you,” sings Grant at one point, while another makes hay with the idea that tremors in Chris’s fingers might be a boon for clitoral stimulation. To top it all there’s a fabulous group number called “Spasticity”.

And then there’s the filth. When used well, foul language can be very funny, and it’s used well here. When was the last time you heard the phrase “minge-mop” in a song? I’ll wager never. The swearing punctuates and lubricates the script, giving it an energy that hurls it towards a climax which craftily evades a hackneyed Hollywood ending.

Produced by the National Theatre of Scotland and disability-led Scottish theatre company Birds of Paradise, the show was a success at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe and, despite the grand surroundings of tonight’s Theatre Royal performance, still has that feel. The singing is by no means of West End musical standards, but the impact is - mostly – unaffected by such raw renditions. The cast are also amplified via headset mics, and there are a couple of moments when technical issues threaten.

All the non-PC wrongness dances around serious points. A peripheral character Nat (Natalie Macdonald) is always onstage signing while the pianist occasionally wanders on to give descriptions for the visually impaired. There are also massive surtitles projected on the back for the hard-of-hearing (in fact, that latter could be distracting upon occasion).

Written and directed by Robert Sofley Gale, who has cerebral palsy, My Left Right Foot takes its subject matter seriously but utilises belly laughs and our discomfort at clanging turns of phrase (“Who hasn’t won an Oscar when they played a disabled?”) to ram home the point that many of us make assumptions we shouldn’t, and that humans are humans, whatever their make-up. If that sounds trite, My Left Right Foot is certainly not… but it is fucking rude!

Below: Watch short film (four minutes) about My Left Right Foot: The Musical

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