Wales – and Cardiff specifically – is rich in inclusive theatre. The likes of Hijinx and Taking Flight Theatre are renowned for their work with disabled artists, constantly breaking down barriers that still haunt the arts. Also on that list of such companies is Theatr Ffynnon who, alongside Theatr Iolo, brings The Unique Me to Chapter Arts Centre. Predominantly featuring performers with learning disabilities, The Unique Me is an excellent example of how involvement in the arts can create a wholly positive experience for disadvantaged communities. However, the production is also an example of where intention and execution don’t correlate.
The effort, of course, is never in question. Performing on stage is at best challenging, at worst terrifying, but the cast carry themselves with great confidence. Unfortunately, what restricts the production is a disjointed and ultimately confusing narrative, one that is arranged into a series of seemingly unconnected vignettes. Audio describer Alistair Sill is the key figure here, his commentary providing some semblance of coherence. Rather than simply enhance it, the production relies on his narration. With Sill guiding proceedings, the actors each get their moments to perform, and some of these vignettes are well done. A recollection of the Berlin Wall is rather poignant, while a story one character tells about having two boyfriends is genuinely hilarious.
Not all of the ‘funny’ moments are intentional, though, bringing on some uncomfortable feelings. The production quickly begins to feel more like a celebration of disabled people performing, rather than a performance with disabled people. It is theatre as spectacle, which this reviewer argues is precisely what inclusive theatre should not be.
As The Unique Me comes to an end, one is left with a myriad of mixed feelings. Appreciation, certainly, for the tenacity and fearlessness of the performers; but uneasiness at the presentation. There is no doubt that this is not what Theatr Ffynnon and Theatr Iolo would have intended but, unfortunately, the finished product does not meet what the intention would have been.