Learning-disabled showcase in Brighton

Purple Playhouse pic by David Smith
Purple Playhouse pic by David Smith

A showcase of live short performances made by artists with learning disabilities from Brighton, Hove and beyond will be punctuated by intervals when people can explore a visual art exhibition and enjoy a drink from the bar.

The show is Grace Eyre Street at the Purple Playhouse Theatre, 36 Montefiore Road, Hove as part of the Brighton Fringe, with performances on May 23 at 7.30pm and May 30 at 7.30pm.

As theatre manager Henry Bruce says, this year’s two performances build on a single, sell-out show last year. The hope would certainly be to increase to three performances in 2019.

“Purple Playhouse Theatre is set up as a community interest company with all profits going to our core charity Grace Eyre which is a charity for adults with learning disabilities. It has been going for more than a hundred years now, but now we have also got the theatre.

“In old terms, we have got what you would call a day centre, but we are moving away from the day-centre model into more of a hub approach. We have got four minibuses that go out across Sussex and bring our services users into the building for all sorts of activities – mosaics, performing, karaoke, whatever they want to do. We facilitate whatever they want to do by running sessions, and then by 3.30 all the minibuses come and pick them up and take them all home again.

“I would say that we see in the region of a hundred people a day. We have got quite a big resource.”

And the theatre is part of it: “A lot of people with learning disabilities don’t articulate in traditional ways and might struggle with verbal communication. We look at other ways of communicating such as acting. It is a great resource, and Grace Eyre Street comes out of that. They have written the show themselves and they are acting in it themselves. It is totally enabling for people who are learning disabled. It is difficult to quantify or to measure in any way, but you can see the difference it makes.

“As the years have gone by, cuts to central government funding down to local government have got worse and worse. Back in the day, they might be able to come to our service five days a week, but now it will be much more like one day a week, and you can see that it is often their one ray of sunshine. They tell us, and also you can see it in their faces. It is such a shame that they can’t come more regularly. Some people with private means maybe do manage a couple of days a week, but for most people it is one day a week.”

The performances are an extension of their service use: “The way it has manifested itself in real terms is that every Wednesday they have been rehearsing since January, right up to May. It has been growing and they have been honing it.

“We have got a drama teacher Mark Richardson, and he has worked with people with learning disabilities for many years and has a lot of experience. He is a master at bringing out the best of them, just in terms of encouragement and making sure they are enjoying it.”

And no, there is no real pressure: “Some of them are real luvvies! They could go toe to toe with any luvvie you might care to mention. But really they are all different. But they are not shy. One of the quite common things with people with learning difficulties is that they will bowl up to somebody and ask deeply-personal and intimate questions. Acting gives them a channel for that… and also a channel for their energy. It allows them to be who they are.”

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