My Left/Right Foot – The Musical review at Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh – ‘irreverent and entertaining’
Scottish amdram group the Kirktoon Players has decided it’s about time it embraced inclusivity. It might even earn itself some brownie points with the Scottish Amateur Dramatic Association along the way.
The company decides the best way to achieve this is to stage a musical version of My Left Foot, the life story of disabled Irish artist Christy Brown, the film version of which won Daniel Day-Lewis an Oscar. Initially ego-on-legs Grant (John McLarnon), who once trod the boards for the RSC, is keen to play the lead, clearly relishing the chance to play “a disabled”.
It occurs to them that Chris (Matthew Duckett) the company’s shy young handyman, who, like Brown, also has cerebral palsy, might provide some insight into the role and they turn to him for his advice. Only then do they start to consider the issues of representation, the problematic aspects of “cripping up” and the “inspiration porn-y” nature of the film.
My Left/Right Foot is a co-production between leading disabled-led theatre company Birds of Paradise and the National Theatre of Scotland. Robert Softley Gale’s writing has the polish of a sitcom. The jokes are often brash and bawdy – there’s a profusion of muff gags, an abundance of jokes about bonking.
With the exception of Chris, whose growing confidence is effectively conveyed by Duckett, the other characters lean towards caricature. There’s ambitious director Amy (Louise McCarthy) and movement director Gillian (Dawn Sievewright), who has the hots for Chris and gets the company members to roll about on the floor, twitching and grunting. Subtle it is not, but it is often very funny.
The cast embraces the material, its brashness and excess. Sievewright in particular has an excellent voice, though she only really gets to show it off during one big number. The score by Scott Gilmour, Claire McKenzie and Jerry Springer the Opera’s Richard Thomas is catchy and energetic and the BSL-interpretation and captioning is an integral part of the production. Natalie MacDonald’s signing is woven into the show, her responses to the characters’ more dubious suggestions or outrageous comments a running – and very funny – joke.
Occasionally the show pauses to explore Chris’ relationship with his body or the emotional connection he starts to feel with Christy Brown – who even speaks to him at one point – but it seems reluctant to dwell on this for too long, diving in to the next big dance number. The way the show hurls around the words ‘spazz’ and ‘cripple’ with the same gusto as its sex jokes can feel uncomfortable – larger questions of power and language feel glossed over in favour of laughs – but the irreverence is infectious and the way it frames questions of representation and ownership of stories in the context of a crowd-pleasing comedy is impressive.