RAWD presents: Phone HomeUnity Theatre 29/9/21
If asked to act out my lockdown, I wouldn’t need a lot of props – an unchanged bed, an overstuffed power extension, an emerald shrub of Peroni bottles in a wicker bin and little stones of foil torn from a roulette of medicine strips dashed on the carpet. Ill off work before Covid and having only just found new work, lockdown chapters one, two and three didn’t come as a shock to me. Instead of my choosing to lie indoors, it was now the law.
An organisation dedicated to championing and supporting disabled artists across Merseyside through theatre, tonight’s RAWD show is dedicated to “every disabled person who felt alone, unheard or forgotten during the Coronavirus pandemic” and with good reason. Individuals living with disability face many questions about how they’re labelled, understood and treated. Some came out of the pandemic neglected or estranged; feelings not necessarily unfamiliar to them.
It’s fitting then, that tonight’s story reflects not just the group’s experience of lockdown but part of their worldview. It centres around six friends, each teleported from a Wednesday night RAWD session to a strange new world full of rules, restrictions and toilet-rolled creatures with blue antennae. RAWDster Jordan Connerty, draped in dove-white and wielding a long tree branch, narrates the scenes with precise and nippy patter.
Through our six friends’ fear, worries and uncertainty in this foreign world, we see the communal mechanics of the group. Two members keep together, standing up, sitting down and when moving across the stage, each secure with the other beside him. A line is prompted from the side of the stage and a wheelchair is left onstage. This is RAWD, where mishaps show the strength of support and its collective resolve – each a sign of solidarity rather than failure.
Leading us into the show and resurfacing throughout is interview footage with members of the group, pulling together the honesty, humour and perspectives of the RAWDsters. The footage imparts the importance of what RAWD is to its members: safe, social, challenging, empowering, a place to keep learning in a world whose systems have denied them opportunities. Alex Roberts’ interview throws a colourful indictment at Boris Johnson and Adam Carragher narrates his family’s pride and focus on a new puppy. Elizabeth Channell asks what Coronavirus is, stabs in the dark: “A pop group?”. Freed from the constraints of agenda-framed, digital-media windows, this feels organic and therapeutic.
Back in our story, the last ditch attempt from our characters to get home (by way of an E.T. interpolation involving a discovered map and a tandem bicycle) sends them back to the RAWD show where it started, where they always wanted to be. You can measure the impact of this group not just from how many interviews mention missing RAWD sessions over lockdown but from how much the cast seem to value each other’s presence onstage.
Through the stage, RAWD creates stories, nurtures growth and amplifies the voices of those denied the chance to speak. Their presence here is felt in the city’s theatre scene and I know they will succeed because their members aren’t just artists, they’re family.