mon 04/03/2024

It’s a Motherf**king Pleasure, Soho Theatre review - disability-led comedy hits hard | reviews, news & interviews

It’s a Motherf**king Pleasure, Soho Theatre review - disability-led comedy hits hard

It’s a Motherf**king Pleasure, Soho Theatre review - disability-led comedy hits hard

FlawBored's meta-theatrical show comforts and then goes in for the kill

Lean on me: Aarian Mehrabani, Chloe Palmer and Samuel Brewer in 'It’s A Motherf**king Pleasure'Images - Alex Brenner

Just when you’ve relaxed a little, privilege duly checked and confident that you won’t be guilt-tripped for nipping into that disabled loo a few years ago at the National (c’mon, the interval was nearly over and needs must), FlawBored drop a bomb into the narrative.

The temperature in the room plummets, a real coup de théâtre is effected and I'm still processing it. Yep, they went there. After garnering awards at the Vaults Festival (that’s not research, they tell you and they tell you why too), Aarian Mehrabani, Chloe Palmer and Samuel Brewer (pictured below) bring their meta-theatrical show about ableism to Soho Theatre

And they know what you’re thinking. You’re an ally with empathy to burn, only too keen to feel their pain (Mehrabani and Brewer are blind) and to show it too, or you’ve been dragged along by an ally and you’ll sit through it because it’s only an hour or so and there’s all Soho to play with later. Believe me, FlawBored saw you coming.

After a bit of joshing about the serious issues raised by the social model of disability (brilliantly exposed last summer by Francesca Martinez’s All Of Us at the National's Dorfman), the show settles into its comic rhythms. An influencer has “done an ableism” – discriminated in favour of able-bodied persons – and a PR company doesn’t just fix the problem, it develops a whole new strategy to make disability the happening new identity with a cachet, creating a new Instagram star to push back the boundaries, one "like" at a time. It’s all beautifully observed, down to the HR executive rendered all but dumb for fear of saying, even thinking, the wrong thing. We squirm a little in our seats, noting how they are very much designed for the able-bodied, but it’s all cuddly enough in this declared safe space.

So far, so good - we’re learning and we’re laughing and we’re not overwhelmed by preaching. But the show has never quite been straightforward in its staging. The actors can’t seem to see the fourth wall (you see what I did there?) and the show takes a swerve when we temporarily step out of the narrative to return to the workshops when the actors were devising the show. This diversion might be tricksy and distracting, but we've been prepared by elements of stand up's more directly confessional discourse continually breaking through the storytelling, so we take it in our stride.   

Gut-punch number one arrives: the skits that the company initially devised were out there, real life ableism already outdoing anything the disabled satirists could write. There just wasn’t enough space available to exaggerate the cynical boneheadedness of a world created by able-bodied people for able-bodied people which disabled people were obliged to navigate. Then things got very dark and very cold indeed.

It’s A Motherf**king Pleasure has elements of plenty of other festival shows that trace their roots in farce, in alternative comedy and in political theatre, but it hurtles through expectations at breakneck speed, exploding them sometimes before they’ve had time even to form. Director Josh Roche does a tremendous job in keeping the focus tight as the content spins wildly, and the cast, assisted by a roll of surtitles and a bolshy captioner, never lose sight of the fact that they’re entertainers first and foremost. 

But the message counts and the ones about the limits of identity politics and concomitant activism, about balancing principles and pragmatism, about responsibilities in an online age, hit home like, well, like walking into a lamppost. 

So there’s the four star review the show predicts just before the curtain from this ableist reviewer (yes, we reviewers get a smack or two, but not as many as the Arts Council). 

What happens next? For FlawBored, more grant applications to draft incompetently but successfully, because it ain’t what you sing it’s the way that you sing it, and surely some interest in making a television or streaming version of this show. And for me? I just need a bit more time to think – I suspect you will too.  

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