Ask anybody about the rights of disabled people and most would say in principle that they should be given every opportunity to live life to the fullest. But given this assumption, why is so hard to imagine that they are interesting in dating – and all that that entails – and why does it make certain people uncomfortable to think of disabled people as having ‘needs’ or desires?
Written by disabled playwright Michael Southan and directed by Nickie Miles-Wildin who has a long association with Graeae, Kerbs examines the minefield of obstacles that disabled people circumnavigate when striving to live an independent life. Maya Coates plays Lucy, a 24-year-old wheelchair user who lives with her mother Carol (Rekha John-Cheryan) who doubles as her ‘carer’. As Lucy seldom has any privacy at home, she relishes her mobile existence in the wider world.
Like all people, Lucy’s ‘success rate’ on dating apps is ‘hit and miss’, but the profile of David (Jack Hunter) – another wheelchair user – looks promising. An evening spent with David ends unhappily when Lucy’s wheelchair hits a kerb, throwing her from her seat. Waking up in hospital, Lucy’s well-meaning mother comes to collect her. But we can already see Lucy tense up at the prospect of being with her mother 24/7…
At first Lucy’s behaviour seems puzzling and perhaps a tad ungrateful, considering how worried her mother is. But as the play progresses, we begin to understand from Lucy’s perspective how Carol’s good intentions can be miscontrued and why Lucy’s yearning to have time and space on her own grows ever stronger.
Hunter’s David is on the surface a ‘cheeky’, self-assured individual who strikes a balance between being ‘unfazed’ by the dating scene and being sensitive to Lucy’s remarks. This is much more enunciated in the latter half of the play when despite his best efforts to appease Lucy, he takes Lucy’s outbursts personally, yet doesn’t retaliate in kind.
Toni – another character in the play performed by John-Cheryan – provides the means (and care) to allow Lucy and David to spend some time away together in a luxury caravan in Maidenhead. John-Cheryan brings a different energy to role, as this character has recently had to deal with grief, but also aware of the importance of ‘seizing the day’.
It is perhaps during the ‘consummation’ scenes that it becomes very apparent that even during well-planned times of intimacy, things don’t necessarily go according to plan. Capturing the awkwardness (and almost ‘comical’) nature of the ‘mechanics’ of sex, one feels for David when he’s crestfallen that the occasion doesn’t pan out as effortessly as he hoped. By the same token, when both parties are later in sync (and with a little help from apparatus) they are able to move unencumbered, we are happy for them that they’re ‘free’ for one moment in time.
Lucy’s journey is in many ways the reversal of Laura’s in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie – yearning for freedom, yet thought of as fragile (emotionally and physically) by her mother. But as we see in the play, Lucy is not above asking for help, not does she want to sever ties. She just needs the opportunity to ‘stretch her legs’ as an adult – even if the ‘lay of the land’ is bumpy at time…
© Michael Davis 2022
Kerbs runs at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry in 26th February to 5th March, before touring across the UK until the beginning of April.
Others Dates and Venues
9th March to 12th March
Unity Theatre, Liverpool
16th March to 18th March
Cast Theatre, Doncaster
23rd March to 26th March
Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough
30th March to 2nd April
Theatre Royal Plymouth, Plymouth