Simon Block's new play is clever, witty and extremely articulate – indeed, at times almost overwritten. He just happens to be shooting fish in a barrel by making the point that people in television production will rapidly sacrifice all principles – whether their own or those of the folk they deal with – in favour of career advancement in the lowest-common-denominator business. However much or little truth there may be in such views, they have long since become clichéd. When Adam, whose play has been modestly successful, is invited by production exec Sarah to discuss its possible development into a TV series, we are not surprised to find that she first wants to render it down by turning it into a sitcom, then – after Adam spends several months writing a full set of scripts – all but disowns the project before, in a final twist, ensnaring Adam in the system with a ludicrously sanitised project offer. His final, heavily symbolic dilemma, to which he responds with an equally portentous "I don't know what I think," is whether to take a glass of still or "[media] industry standard" sparkling mineral water.
So far, so uninteresting. Block's twist is to make Adam disabled (he is in a wheelchair in the first act, on sticks in the second) and to give Adam's play and the possible series a disabled protagonist and viewpoint. He dramatises the debates magnificently, from the too-guilty liberal agonising about whether she should have opened a door for Adam without first asking him to the marginalisation of disability within culture as a whole. Eddie Marsan turns in one of his characteristically fine performances as Adam, and Joanne Pearce's Sarah employs a Thatcherian huskiness in her voice when trying to sound implausibly sincere.
But, although Block clearly handles disability issues with intelligence and sensitivity, is he also exploiting them in exactly the same way as the media industry he castigates? Is the difference one of degree only rather than of nature? I simply do not know; I felt uncomfortable watching it, but that discomfort may be my problem and an aspect of the reprehensible situation which Block is indicting. Yet I cannot shake my fear that the audience which will see the play here at the Bush will digest it much as Block shows Adam and his own work being digested. I also fear that we may hear few disabled people's opinions on the matter; I am happy to be corrected on the point, but to all outward appearances, the Bush would seem to be the very devil of a venue for wheelchair access.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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