Pros: A humorous reflection of life lived in the shadow of a disability.
Cons: Be prepared for some audience interaction.
Intimacy was performed as part of the South Bank Centre‘s Unlimited Festival, now in this its second year, it celebrates the artistic vision of disabled artists from all over the world.
Intimacy’s creator Michelle Ryan was one of Australia’s elite dancers with a career mapped out ahead of her until at the age of thirty she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. A degenerative neurological illness with no known cure MS causes deterioration of muscle movement, balance and vision. It is a dreadful condition to befall anyone, least of all a dancer who was once the epitome of able bodied.
Talking about disability can be difficult, but in Intimacy Michelle Ryan breaks her silence on her personal battles without the slightest hint of bitterness toward her condition. In it she intimately acknowledges her repressed fears, relationship trials and quieter moments of personal reflection, which typify her acute vulnerability. This is an inspiring hour-long performance that explores attitudes toward disability and emotional dependence through an impressionistic dreamscape, incorporating dance, music and audience interaction.
At times we see Ryan speaking candidly to her therapist about her dreams, sometimes she opens up to us with a humorous monologue, or shows us an awkward date with a man afraid of commitment. Her onstage romantic interest Vincent Crowley is a sympathetic dance partner, but isn’t willing to stick around for long. He does however provide some much needed comedy value as he struggles to come to terms with his own intimacy issues. This plays put with some interesting physical humour, which sees Crowley hop across stage in a sleeping bag.
Overall this is a frank and brave exploration of the process of coping with disability and emotional pain on a personal level, and also our failings to do so as a society at large. Crowley isn’t afraid to deal with Ryan’s physical weakness, but finds it hard to confront his own emotional failings when it comes to love, a refreshing take.
Seeing Ryan’s thin frame and wasted musculature in contrast to Crowley’s strong physical form proved a powerful reminder of the debilitating impact of MS. Moments of audience interaction, where we were asked to assist Ryan in standing, dressing and by providing an attentive ear not only highlight her physical frailty, but her increasing dependence on other people. It works really well and is some of the most clever use audience interaction you’re likely to see. It doubtlessly brought some out of their comfort zone but proved an important point in highlighting the basic practical challenges faced by those with disability on a daily basis.Importantly, it also forced us to confront our own cultural awkwardness surrounding issues of disability and human mortality.
Musical intervals and accompaniment run throughout the piece, with a lively original score and bluesy performance by Simon Ezeky (guitar) and (eat your heart out lounge singer) Emma Bathgate.The musical element is unexpected and occasionally jarring in its intensity but is an essential element to evoking Ryan’s hidden emotional struggle.
As Ryan charts the process of coming to terms with her illness she is so often finds herself alone. In the end that’s how we find her she strips off to her underwear and performs a final solo dance.
This is a tender play that deserves a longer run. It’s a great introduction to the vivacity of contemporary Australian theatre and a testament to the objectives of the Unlimited festival.
Creator: Michelle Ryan
Performers: Michelle Ryan, Vincent Crowley, Emma Bathgate, Simon Eszeky
Producers: Michelle Ryan & Torque Show
Live Score: Lavender V Rose
Booking Information: This production has finished its run.