My Left / Right Foot – The Musical is an ambitious performance from the National Theatre of Scotland and Birds of Paradise Theatre, a company which specialises in thought-provoking, accessible theatre. My Left / Right Foot excels at both of those things, with a commitment to access both on and off stage, as well as an acerbic critique of social attitudes towards disabled people. It’s also incredibly slick and wonderfully funny.
Birds of Paradise Theatre practise what they preach, using sign language interpretation, surtitles, audio description, and a hearing loop. Instead of grudgingly including these in the most unobtrusive way possible (as happens on most of the rare occasions where you spot these access provisions in mainstream theatre), the actors actively draw attention to them, springing humour from the sign language, surtitles et al.
With acidic condemnation of social attitudes towards disabled people in general – and non-disabled actors playing disabled characters in particular – this show is not afraid to criticise. While it fulfils its advertised goal of challenging the audience to think about their behaviour, it is careful not to push them too far, delivering most of its criticism wrapped in humour and upbeat songs.
Speaking of which, the original songs are brilliant, ranging from acerbic to heart-wrenching to hilarious. All of the actors display great vocal talent, with Gail Watson as Sheena and Dawn Sievewright as Gillian standing out with particularly stunning solos. The choreography is also excellent, using the simple set to its maximum potential and always delivered perfectly in time.
My Left / Right Foot succeeds in the difficult task of addressing serious issues that risk being labelled as ‘preachy’ or ‘overly worthy’, while not sacrificing its message on the altar of an upbeat, feelgood show. It finds the balance in humour, criticising people’s attitudes while making them gasp with laughter. A lot of the jokes are either very close to the bone – such as a musical number early on entitled ‘Spasticity’ – or a bit filthy, and both find equally excellent results.
My Left / Right Foot is a much-needed play which should attract audiences of all abilities, challenging each watcher’s own learned behaviours and prejudices. But also see it for the fantastic performance; for the wonderful showcase of talent – from the polished choreography and striking solos, to the biting, hilarious lyrics.