Matilda Ibini’s Little Miss Burden is a gem of a play. Set in 1990s Hackney, it manages that rare feat of being both brilliantly specific in its references and widely, if not universally, relatable for people with disabilities and long-term health conditions.
Little Miss (Saida Ahmed) and her two sisters, Little Sis (Ani Nelson) and Big Sis (Michelle Tiwo) are a tripartite team of British Nigerian girls living in London. Drawing on Ibini’s own experience, Little Miss is a wheelchair user with a medical conditional diagnosed with all-too-recognisable slowness throughout her childhood.
The false hope offered by medical professionals, up to the point of performing a major operation without fully explaining all the possible outcomes, is partnered with a truckload of implied guilt and misplaced responsibility. Little Miss is misunderstood by shortsighted teachers and doctors, who advise her to stop being a typical teenager and help her mum out a little more.
Her devout church life provides her with additional hope – and despair. It’s a very moving story, but Debbie Hannan’s production tempers the sadness with humour (Ahmed in particular is superb at expressive side-eye glances undercutting the bad cards she’s been dealt) and a well-judged use of music from the 1990s.
This is a story of learning to live with a chronic condition – to even make friends with it – but one completely free of the saccharine narrative slush that is too often characteristic of stories about living with disability. It’s absolutely wonderful.