Still No Idea review – disability decoded with piercing honesty

Eight years ago, Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence made a show called No Idea, in which members of the public were asked: “What sort of play would we be in?” The answers – brought comically to life on stage – were highly revealing of popular attitudes to (and anxieties about) disability: Hammond is a wheelchair user and has a restricted growth condition. Now, the show is revived and developed, to reflect a new era of “diversity, inclusivity and equality”. The result is a lucid, delightfully ironic and politically piercing 80 minutes that combine comedy, honesty and protest to distinctive effect.

It’s created with Lee Simpson of Improbable and has the incongruous guilelessness of that company’s best work. The first half reprises material from the 2010 show, as Hammond and Spence recite their vox pops verbatim, then – tongues in cheeks – enact the scenarios and relationship proposed. A highlight is the cockney singalong about Hammond’s “cheeky little face”, a quality their interviewees just can’t help pointing out as they try not to mention her disability.

‘Cheeky little face’ … Lisa Hammond in Still No Idea. Photograph: Camilla Greenwell

Things get more pointed when the pair ask the public to devise them a whole play. In 2010, and again in 2018, the ensuing adventure gives Spence plenty to do, and sidelines Hammond. The same thing happens when Hammond tells the – fictional, insists the former EastEnders actor – story of her stint on a popular TV soap. Her casting, in what was conceived as a non-disabled role, was hyped as world-changing. Four years later, she’d been offered no major storylines whatsoever.

The show’s argument, then, is that the increased visibility of people with disabilities has been exaggerated, and that visibility is in any case not the same as inclusion. “Inspiration porn” is on the telly while austerity kills people with disabilities. It’s a bleak conclusion, as Hammond and Spence admit – but never a bleak show. Its grace and directness is disarming; so, too, are Hammond and Spence’s humour and camaraderie. We need, they conclude, to learn to imagine better – a skill that this lovely show exemplifies as it conjures from thin air its laughter, sadness and cogent argument.

At the Royal Court, London, until 17 November.

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