Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Mia (Daughters of Fortune)

Joyce Nga Yu Lee
Mind the Gap
The Lowry, Salford
01 November 2016 to 02 November 2016

Mind the Gap is England’s largest leaning disability theatre company. The play Mia is part of their umbrella project entitled Daughters of Fortune that includes also an interactive forum and a site sensitive outdoor project.

Mia, devised and directed by Joyce Nga Yu Lee, explores the challenges faced by people with a learning disability as they consider becoming parents. A cast of four learning-disabled artists (Alan Clay, Anna Gray, JoAnne Haines and Alison Short) perform the play. This makes the show sound like it should come with a warning: Worthy stamped in large friendly letters. Fortunately the imaginative presentation and sharp undertone of anger ensures that Mia is anything but dull.

The central point of Mia is that, in addition to the challenges presented by their condition, learning disabled parents face obstacles that the able-bodied would never encounter. It is argued that past scandals have made officials so cautious that they prefer to take children into care rather than facilitate them being raised safely by their learning-disabled birth parents. It is estimated that between 40 and 90% of parents with a learning disability have their children removed. The practice is so commonplace that one parent is quoted as saying there was no point in decorating a child’s bedroom, as there was no guarantee that they would be allowed to keep her.

The arguments are presented in a darkly humorous manner that emphasises the ridiculous extremes to which people are driven. While able-bodied people, including bankers, politicians and Salfordians, are allowed to spawn offspring without restraint people with learning disabilities have to answer 364 questions (including the ability to change a fuse) to prove their suitability.  One of the sketches is performed in the style of a game show entitled ‘Don’t Drop the Baby’. Officialdom is not presented in a good light being perceived as unhelpful and intimidating.

The least successful parts of Mia are those in which statistics are presented; while necessary to prove the point it is hard to absorb the material. In the main, however, Joyce Nga Yu Lee’s direction is highly imaginative and the multimedia presentation, including filmed inserts and dance routines, highly engaging. The sexualised nature of modern society is suggested by the cast re-enacting pop videos using basic equipment like hairdryers. The cast dance in time to their exaggerated shadows and a close circuit camera is utilised to capture a child’s perspective of the world.

Thought provoking, devoid of self-pity and stylishly presented Mia is a stimulating examination of an issue that demands wider consideration.

Reviewer: David Cunningham