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Review : A Normal Child at the Northcote Town Hall Arts Space

By Kerrie Batrouney

Have you ever paused to empathize with what it would be like to be disabled? As an “ablebod” I thought I had, but only in a very superficial way, disability is not something I have had to think about so much. A Normal Child exposes the emotions of the actors in 3D, it made me think, it was a little uncomfortable, funny and thought provoking.

A Normal Child by Disability Slapstick Plan & Ridiculusmus was co-created by the actors themselves, David Woods, Jonathan Haynes, Betty Bobbitt, Trevor Dunn, Jess Kapuscinski-Evans and Eva Sifis. Several other people were involved in the production and apart from the amazing actors, I feel the set and costume designer Matilda Woodroofe deserves a special mention. The costumes were elaborate, adapted appropriately for the needs of the actors and ranging from very simple accessories to the ridiculously elaborate Elizabethan costumes (I think just because).

The play opened to a packed house, the actors introducing themselves and immediately the audience were off and laughing. At first I was a bit confused…. why is this funny?….. until I realized that they were parodying the pervasive way that people can talk over them, not listen and talk for them, which they are faced with everyday…. So, message delivered with humour and received (eventually).

It is a play within a play…. a play about a group of people with disabilities developing a play, aided by 2 vastly different directors. The creatives tried out 4 scenes, not connected, which explored several realities which disabled people are faced with. These included, the possibility that you could have been terminated before birth, how you are treated by immigration departments, that you are seen as dumb and that if you are playing a part, it doesn’t matter who you are. We were also introduced to some new words; a noddy (not obviously discernably disabled yet), ableist, ablebods, feeling othered, I plan to try them out soon.

Some frustration was expressed with every stranger’s obsession about what their disability is and their reply to that is that “we might be disabled but we are normal people with normal feelings who laugh at normal things”. Of course, we still did wonder what the actor’s disability was and this inappropriate curiosity was satisfied at the end. By then we understood a little of each person’s personality, so when they each role-played another of their group to describe their disability, this was very powerful but done in a funny, empathetic way.

I am a little concerned that maybe I didn’t completely get the message and if I haven’t, I apologize. I think it was that people just want to be respected for the journey they are on and not everyone is on the same journey so we should just respect other’s feelings.

I really enjoyed the play, it was a revealing glimpse into the lives of other humans who have vastly different interactions in everyday life through no choice of their own, who are treated differently by people who see only the disability, not the person. In fact, I feel like I have said the word disability far too often in this review. There was no doubt that the cast were all enjoying the production, poking fun at themselves and others, they have created a work that is relevant, thought provoking, and comical.

Image Credit: Sarah Walker

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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