Wednesday, 20 January 2021

REVIEW: How do you make a cup of tea? Online at Graeae

In Spring 2020, leading UK disabled-led theatre company, Graeae launched Crips Without Constraints, an online weekly series of new works championing deaf and disabled artists. Following its success, on January 19, Graeae launched Crips Without Constraints: Part Two, a series of five new online plays. Each work will star a selection of UK’s finest performers including; Dame Harriet Walter, Sharon D. Clarke, Mandy Colleran, Naomi Wirthner, Cherylee Houston and Julie Graham.

How Do You Make a Cup Of Tea? written by Kellan Frankland and performed by Dame Harriet Walter and Mandy Colleran is the first of the bunch to launch. Clocking in at just under twenty minutes long, it is a powerful, frank and necessary expose of issues regarding the representation of disabled people by non-disabled actors in film and theatre. It takes the form of a dark comedy masterfully jostling between absurdity and realism. Frankland ultimately serves up a sobering reality experienced by many.

The entirety of the piece takes place over a Zoom call between two actors. Sally (Walter) a successful non-disabled actor and Frankie (Colleran) a disabled actor. Sally has been cast as a disabled character called Emily in a new play. To prepare for the role and to understand a lived experience so removed from her own she decides to consult Frankie for insight. However, due to miscommunications on several fronts, Frankie is under the impression that she will be playing the role of Emily (a logical casting choice in theory) and that Sally will be playing another character. In her mind, this meeting is going to be a rehearsal. Once the confusion is rectified Frankie begrudgingly accepts her role as ‘consultant’. It is then we become witness to a beratement of privileged judgments onto Frankie as Sally projects her ill-informed understanding of being a disabled person.

Although Walter and Colleran play fictional characters, I couldn’t help but feel both have tapped into personal experiences on the matter. The frustration and anger bubbling under the patient yet tired exterior of Frankie in the face of Sally’s ignorance thinly veiled by privileged do-gooder intentions are palpable from Colleran. Walter, a member of UK’s acting elite in real life, as Sally is depressingly convincing.

Media coverage of recent controversial castings of A list, non-disabled actors as disabled characters highlight not only issues surrounding representation but also the culpability of the actors who play them. For example, Bryan Cranston as a quadriplegic in The Upside, Jake Gyllenhaal as a man who lost both legs in Stronger, and dancer Maddie Ziegler as an autistic character in Sia’s latest film Music have left the disabled community to question why they are being excluded from telling their own stories. Figures put forward by the Creative Diversity Network’s most recent report suggest that despite disabled people being the largest minority group in the UK, they are still one of the most under-represented groups in the entertainment industry. We must therefore question what progress has or will be made to counter this. Frankland forces us to listen and question this and it is uncomfortable. 

Graeae Stands as an energised creative hub for new talent in the performing arts. I look forward to what Crips Without Constraints: Part Two has to offer in the coming weeks.

You can catch each play online at: and

Each play will be released online every Tuesday at midday from 19 January until 16 February 2021. All pieces will be captioned and audio described. Broadcast date/time: Tue 19 Jan 12 midday. 

Review by Stephanie Osztreicher

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Online | Price of Ticket: NA

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