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The Man Who Found His Freedom at The Space Arts Centre

The Man Who Found His Freedom
The Man Who Found His Freedom at The Space Arts Centre

When walking into The Space you could feel a sense of community and this was realised by a full house. The show starts with Mikey, played by actor David Grindley, who suffers from cerebral palsy and whose life the performance is based on, centre stage. There are also four actors on stage ‘preparing’ for the performance whilst the audience are taking their seats.

The performance starts with Mikey being placed into a care home by his family. It was a sweet start when Sally, his new carer, played by Sadie Parsons, meets Mikey for the first time and starts to build a rapport with him by taking the time to figure out what he wants, which was a marmite sandwich. There were some really nice moments where an actor used a microphone to interpret what Mikey was saying to the audience. This simple technique showed the frustration of being unable to communicate and left the audience painfully begging for Sally and the other care workers to understand what Mikey was trying to convey.

The storyline was simple but well thought out, with the continuous repetitious tasks undertaken daily by the, at times, curmudgeonly care workers who have to ‘deal’ with their clients every day. Not only was this tedious for the care workers but at times tedious for the audience too. Although the repetition was nice, it felt like a filler to break up the scenes.

The cast sat by the sides of the stage and operated the lighting, sound and played multi-roles where necessary. Having the actors by the side of the stage was a nice idea but I felt it was distracting.

A record player plays a vital role in Mikey’s life, whether it was listening to music to relax or listening to music to get drunk to! When one of the carers put a record on for Mikey, they simply gestured off-stage rather than using the on-stage prop. Although it’s a nice idea, it was distracting for audience members as it took our focus away from the action on stage. I felt we missed what could have been some beautifully touching moments.

Leading on from that, I felt that some of the scenes dragged on a bit. I started to really get into a scene where Mikey’s care worker Dean described a pub with its customers. It was so detailed and really immersed the audience into a pub surrounding, but unfortunately it went into a slightly awkward ‘party scene’ where there was lots of drinking, dancing girls and drinking games, I wasn’t too keen on the scene and I’m not sure the actors were either. At times it felt like some of the cast weren’t 100% committed to what they were performing, the pub party scene being one and also a spontaneous song about Mikey’s new apartment, based on the song ‘Be Our Guest’ from Beauty and The Beast. The movement felt stilted and flat with some awkward solo dances.

The structure of the show was coherent and clear, sometimes there were moments where you flashed back in time, which was momentarily confusing but as the scene developed it became clear what was happening. I thoroughly enjoyed the moments where tension was high, but couldn’t help feel that most of the ideas weren’t explored enough. It sometimes felt that we were only allowed a glimpse into some of the more serious matters of care homes and care workers. I know that the piece wasn’t about ‘taking down the care system’ but I did feel like the writers were stepping on egg shells around the more serious subject matters which was a shame.

There were some beautiful moments where David, shone as Mikey on stage, this was particularly poignant where he expressed his feelings for his care worker which was beautifully staged and acted, I wish we could have seen that side of the story a bit more. Although a fictitious storyline, you could see how much of David was in this piece. At times. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry and I think the rest of the audience felt that too.

Disability within theatre, whether it is physical or mental is an incredible art form, which I fully support. I am extremely impressed by the bravery of David, the writers and the rest of the creative team, but I do feel a few more workshops would’ve been useful to iron out the creases for the show to reach its full potential.
3 Star Review

Review by Jordan Murphy

The Man Who Found His Freedom
Space Productions to stage Arts Council funded play inspired by the life of local resident, David Grindley

The Space’s in-house professional theatre company, Space Productions, has received its fourth grant from Arts Council England to stage a new play exploring one man’s extraordinary story. Working with a company of disabled and able-bodied actors, The Man Who Found His Freedom will explore issues surrounding disability and determination. Alongside the production, a programme of workshops, post-show discussions and Q&A sessions will enable audiences to engage with the key social issues within the play.

Who is David Grindley?
53-year old local resident, David Grindley has been a Space regular for over 14 years. Audience member, volunteer, fundraiser, assistant director and performer, David has organised classical music recitals, undertaken sponsored walks and silences and been a vital part of community theatre company, SpaceWorks, since it began in 2009. David has Cerebral Palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. Inspired by Christy Brown, David has, for a long time, had a desire to tell his story.

‘Don’t give up’
David has had to overcome a number of obstacles throughout his life including communication difficulties and an on/off relationship with white wine. His determination, patience and persistence have been key whilst his personality and humour have meant he’s rarely been short of friends along the way. It was these qualities that led Bill Keenan, a fellow SpaceWorks member, to volunteer to help David tell his story. Bill has spent the last eighteen months researching and interviewing David, his friends and family. David enlisted another group of SpaceWorks members to help him with a range of fundraising activities which provided match funding for a successful Arts Council England application.

Working with the director of the Space, Adam Hemming, David has recruited a professional director, playwrights and a company of four actors, all of whom have links to Space Productions, to take the research material gathered, and create a fictionalised version of his life. The result is a story about being in care, about family, about friendship and about how one man was strong enough to escape his metaphorical and physical captivity to find his freedom.

Adam is thrilled to have the production taking place at the Space: ‘There have often been links between our professional theatre company, Space Productions and the SpaceWorks community theatre company. David has given a huge amount to the Space and we’re delighted to have the opportunity to support him in this. The show will definitely help to raise awareness of Cerebral Palsy and disability but above all else this is an inspiring story that should resonate with all.

Writers: David Grindley, Bill Keenan, Isabel Dixon and Sebastian Rex
Director: Danielle McIlven
Cast: Tim Blackwell, Avita Jay, Sadie Parsons, Paul Tonkin and David Grindley
The Space
269 Westferry Road
London E14 3RS
https://space.org.uk/

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