There are two things I have always felt passionate about. I’ve always loved theatre. I’ve always hated discrimination. Therefore it was one of the proudest moments of my life last year to be invited to become a trustee of Blue Apple Theatre because it uses drama to help people with learning disabilities become more confident, skilled and respected.
One of the best theatrical experiences I have had was Blue Apple’s adapted version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which I saw last year at the Theatre Royal Winchester. The command and intensity with which Tommy Jessop played the Prince plus the consistently strong engagement of the rest of the actors in the momentous events both captured the audience and threw new light on the play, which is all I ask whenever I go to the theatre.
By literally putting people with a learning disability centre stage, Blue Apple encourages audiences to see beyond the disability and respect them as human beings. Blue Apple doesn’t patronise its participants, it challenges them to think about their performance and trains them to become effective actors. I’m expecting their latest production The Hotel, which is inspired by the classic French farces of Feydeau, to be as funny and moving as anything you could hope to see on stage.
Discrimination against people with a learning disability remains on the whole untackled and unremarked. I think this is partly because it can be a hidden disability but also because someone with a learning disability is regarded as somehow mentally immature and therefore not due the rights of other adults.
It is expected- although still resented by some- that businesses will adjust their premises and working practices to accommodate someone with a physical disability, whether as an employee or customer. This happens far less commonly when someone needs extra time or attention because of a learning disability.
These days hate crime is something the police are trained to recognise when it involves a black or gay person. Blue Apple’s original theatre production Living With Fear describes a hate crime against someone with a learning disability. So successful has it been at educating police officers and others that the Home Office recently funded a film version, made with the help of Hampshire Police, called Paul’s Story.
Blue Apple make theatre that changes lives. Not only the lives of those taking part but those who see it.
The Hotel is performing at the Theatre Royal Winchester until Saturday 13 July.