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Imposter 22 at the Royal Court Theatre | Review

I’m nearly always tempted at a ‘relaxed performance’ to ponder momentarily if there are reverse psychology forces at work. Patrons are welcome to move or make noise if required, with Kev (Housni Hassan) going as far as telling the audience, “You must feel free because you are free”. It naturally follows that there were actually fewer disturbances than one might reasonably expect at a performance that openly welcomes them. The production must be doing something right, because an open invitation to leave the theatre at any time for any reason (which would include, for instance, boredom, or the call of nature) wasn’t taken up by anyone around me.

Imposter 22 - Credit Ali Wright.
Imposter 22 – Credit Ali Wright.

I was told, on entry to the auditorium, amongst other things, there would be a scream at some point: I don’t recall hearing one. A twenty-four page ‘visual guide’ goes into considerable detail about the show’s content. Seven of the eight-strong cast are “learning disabled” – the production’s choice of term – and there is a team of creative support workers on hand to assist them. On one level, the storyline could be summarised in less than a minute, and the show takes a risk by having Jake (Cian Binchy) tell the audience in the final moments that the entire evening has been a waste of time.

It is not, however, a ‘Gerald Ratner moment’, particularly as it’s immediately followed by an apology, which itself feels superfluous, because the play’s final outcome is ultimately a positive one. Earlier, a scene involving a telephone call to Jobcentre Plus had me in stitches – the audience is spared the call centre menu options (hurrah!) with the emphasis instead on a verbal avalanche of acronyms and abbreviations.

Having defined ‘normality’ for the sake of argument – on press night, a preface that there really is no such thing as ‘normal’ was strongly cheered and applauded – I came away thinking about whether the regular prompting during the show was in itself an attempt to force a form of normality on the cast. It seemed to me that in most cases an actor simply needed a few more seconds to recalibrate and recall what line comes next, making some of the prompts potentially redundant. In the end, however, ‘too much’ support (inverted commas mine) is better than too little, and there are several examples in the show, never demonstrated preachily, where support could have been better.

Perhaps predictably, Danny (Jamael Westman), the only character not learning disabled, comes with his own eccentricities that in some respects make him seem less normal than the others. The narrative is broad, at one point talking about appropriate levels of pay for professional actors (a hot topic at the best of times, but even more so at the time of writing, with the American film and television industries affected by strike action), and at another point discussing, albeit briefly, the implied reasoning behind a regularly heard announcement on the railways about not encouraging beggars by donating to them.

Rose (Stephanie Newman) raised some hearty laughter from the audience with her sheer forthrightness. In keeping with the concerns raised by some of the characters early on, the show remained a truly ensemble piece of theatre to the very end, a team effort, with no one person getting star billing above the others. It is still unusual to see learning-disabled people on stage, and this production proves they are just as capable as demonstrating nuance and sophistication in bringing characters to life as anyone else. A spirited and enthusiastic production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

7 friends are in the frame for murder and the police are closing in.

They must clear their name and in order to do so, they’ve enlisted the most unlikely of help.

As the pressure mounts, friends become suspects and the experience changes them all.

This funny, dark whodunnit will take you on an unexpected journey; with jokes, sex, songs, crimes, plot twists and a comeuppance.

Developed collaboratively over 5 years by Access All Areas’ learning disabled and autistic Associate Artists: Kirsty Adams, Cian Binchy, Housni Hassan (DJ), Dayo Koleosho, Stephanie Newman, Lee Phillips and Charlene Salter alongside writer, Molly Davies and director, Hamish Pirie, Imposter 22 is a playful account of navigating barriers, neurodiversity and the power of sharing a platform.

Written by Molly Davies.

Co-created with Kirsty Adams, Cian Binchy, Housni Hassan (DJ), Dayo Koleosho, Stephanie Newman, Lee Phillips and Charlene Salter.

From an original idea by Hamish Pirie.

A Royal Court Theatre and Access All Areas co-production
Imposter 22
by Molly Davies
Sat 23 Sep – Sat 14 Oct 2023
https://royalcourttheatre.com/

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