Wednesday, 3 February 2021

REVIEW: The Gift online at Graeae

Trigger warning: Themes of sexual assault 

Graeae, the UK’s leading disabled-led theatre company launched Crips Without Constraints, an online weekly series of new works championing deaf and disabled artists, in Spring 2020. Following its success, Crips Without Constraints: Part Two, a series of five new online plays, graces our screens this winter. Each play is not only written and directed by some of the finest up and coming UK talents, but they also star a selection of UK’s first-class performers including; Dame Harriet Walter, Sharon D. Clarke, Mandy Colleran, Naomi Wirthner, Cherylee Houston and Julie Graham. 

The first two plays presented by Crips Without Constraints: Part Two, How do you make a cup of Tea? and Flowers For The Chateau, have been a pleasure to watch. The latest instalment of the series, The Gift, written by Leanna Benjamin, directed by Cheryl Martin and starring Sharon D.Clarke and Saida Ahmed, is no different. The Gift presents a touching and heartbreaking moment between a mother and daughter as they come to terms with the challenges and reality of a situation no family should ever have to deal with. 

Shirley (Clarke) is the warm and loving mother of Jasmine (Ahmed), a strong-minded disabled woman celebrating her 30’th birthday. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic and need for social distancing, the two are forced to celebrate this milestone via a Zoom call. The tenderness and warmth the mother-daughter duo feel for each other are instantly evident, however, within moments, a recent trauma experienced by Jasmine involving a sexual assault rears its ugly head to complicate and challenge their relationship.

The Gift is an insight into being a female, having the odds stacked up against you and having to make decisions you never thought you would have to. It is about the bond between a mother and daughter and how they experience individual pain and each other's pain when faced with the devastating and lasting effects caused by an assault on one of them.

Clarke is harrowing as Shirley. The pain she experiences from wanting to protect her child, yet her inability to do so manifests like torture. There is a devastating sincerity in her performance, which demonstrates how the actions of one awful person can affect so many so profoundly.

Ahmed's portrayal of Jasmine, a young woman who has had her trust and literal body violated is heartbreaking and powerful. One could say, Jasmine, is a vulnerable character because she is a woman and disabled, but the strength she shows in the face of the hardest decision of her young life is unquestionable. She represents those made to feel weak but whom are survivors making them strong beyond words.

Leanna Benjamin has written a play that unearths some of the evils in this world yet reminds us that compassion and love can still prevail, though, we have to accept they come with their complexities.

The programming of Crips Without Constraints: Part Two, so far, has been nothing short of spectacular and confronting and Graeae have exhibited an expertise in hitting their audiences with moments of lightness yet at the same time hard truths. With two more instalments to be released in the coming weeks, I can not wait to see see what they hit us with next!

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.

Review by Stephanie Osztreicher

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: NA | Price of Ticket: NA

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