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How Do You Make a Cup of Tea? by Kellan Frankland | Review

There’s a dark kind of humour that permeates proceedings in this brief show, which effectively becomes drama about drama. Sally (Dame Harriet Walter) meets Frankie (Mandy Colleran) in a Zoom meeting. Both think they have been cast as Emily, the lead character in a play about a wheelchair user. Not much else about Emily is disclosed in the conversation, as Sally instead wants to get to know Frankie first. Nothing inherently wrong with that, one would reasonably think, except Sally’s fact-finding style is tactless, to say the least.
How Do You Make a Cup of Tea?

It’s just as well that Frankie perseveres as long as she does, else the meeting would have ended sooner rather than later, and the production, barely twenty minutes in length as it is, would have been even shorter. The dialogue covers a considerable amount of ground within the timeframe, however, and manages to do so without feeling overly rushed. It is, I think, unlikely that a non-disabled actor wanting to know more about what it is like to be disabled would display this level of insensitivity in reality.

But what do I know, not having any mobility problems to speak of myself? That seems to be one of the points the play seeks to put across. The show’s setting means that it’s almost necessarily heavy on exposition. Sally’s assertion that an actor, by definition, takes on characters over the course of their career that are invariably very different from their own selves, is countered by Frankie’s frustration that as a disabled actor, she would be better placed to play a disabled character, and wouldn’t need to spend time learning about what being disabled is like.

There are some ongoing discussions around this, and to the extent to which authenticity is required to play a role. For instance, taken to a not-so-logical conclusion, would someone need to have prior experience as a Member of Parliament to play an MP in a political play? The salient point seems to be, however, that disabled actors are not as visible as they could be, and practically everyone involved in the casting process has a voice that they can use to raise awareness. Sally implicitly tries to shift the blame for a non-disabled actor taking on a disabled character to the casting director: Frankie calmly replies that Sally didn’t have to accept the role being offered.

What’s particularly likeable about this play is that it gets its views across without being too preachy – it’s thought-provoking without feeling like a lecture. A brief but punchy piece of lockdown theatre.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

HOW DO YOU MAKE A CUP OF TEA?
by Kellan Frankland

A disabled actor meets the not-yet-disabled woman intent on playing her. Ferocious and funny the play poses the question, who has the right to play whom?

The plays and BSL conversations will be available to watch through Graeae’s YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/graeaetheatrecompany) and website (www.graeae.org).

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