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Don’t Wake Me: The Ballad of Nihal Armstrong, The Cockpit

Rahila Gupta
Directed by Guy Slater

Pros: The play gives the subject of caring for the disabled a personal dimension.

Cons: The show may not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, but appearances are deceiving.

Our Verdict: A one-woman show that taps into the fears and experiences of all parents.

I don’t know about you, but when someone says, “Do you want to see a moving play about a parent with a

Courtesy of the Cockpit

disabled child?” it doesn’t necessarily scream a fun night out. True, there have been notable plays such as A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg, but you can count on one hand the amount of texts that have tackled the subject successfully, if at all. Kudos then to the Cockpit Theatre for putting on a show that addresses this subject in a successful fashion.Written by Rahila Gupta, a well-known novelist and playwright, Don’t Wake Me is a personal account of her relationship with her disabled son – from her ‘difficult’ labour and struggle to get straight answers from medical staff, to her perennial fight for Nihal’s education.

Delivered as a dramatic monologue, Jaye Griffiths’ conversation with the audience is part confessional, part cathartic discourse. To the right of her on an easel is a picture of the real Nahil – a sober reminder that this is not a work of fiction, but a representation of true events.

As you might expect from the name of the show, most of the tale isn’t spoken in prose, but in verse – something I haven’t seen in London productions since Dirty Great Love Story (another show that circumvented the audience’s expectations). Also, like the ballads of old, throughout it runs a strong cord of love – of the mother for her son – entwined with the adversaries of stigma and ignorance, and the quest for social acceptance.

One thing that Don’t Wake Me can’t be accused of is sentimentality. The show makes perfectly clear that for a mother/anyone who decides to care for a disabled person at home (instead of giving them to the State to look after) life is most definitely NOT a box of chocolates. Forrest Gump this isn’t. While Griffiths as Gupta channels her frustration and anger at inflexible bureaucracy, she is just as hard – if not more so – on herself. However the fire in her belly keeps her in good stead, as it gives her faith in her son’s intelligence and ability to communicate.

In following one woman’s journey, the show asks the audience a lot of questions, the most obvious being, what would I have done? We all like to think we would be caring and would make numerous sacrifices should our child have cerebral palsy, but would we really do so? And even if we did, would we in our heart of hearts want to do that – or do we do so out of duty, as that is what’s expected of us?

One person in the show that was mentioned in relation to Nihal was esteemed scientist Stephen Hawking. This got me thinking. If Hawking had been denied access to resources to facilitate his ability to communicate, what would have become of him? How many other disabled people are in that position now, unable to communicate?

It would be remiss of me to finish this without coming back to the star of the show, Jaye Griffiths. She had the Herculean task of keeping the audience enthralled and remembering the elegant rhythms of speech for 70 minutes. She also had to emote and be believable at each stage of her character’s tale. When the moment demanded it, she was funny, subtle, able to replicate different accents, and exude joy as well as despair. By the end of the performance she was tearful (as were many members of the audience). I don’t believe Ms Griffiths could have played the part if she wasn’t giving it her all – a soul-wrenching performance.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below! 

Don’t Wake Me: The Ballad of Nihal Armstrong runs at The Cockpit Theatre until 22nd June 2013.
Box Office: 020 7258 2925 or book online at http://thecockpit.org.uk/show/dont_wake_me

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One comment

  1. Jaye Griffiths is irreplaceable in this unforgettable story of a very special mother-son relationship. The very moving script is based on the personal experiences of its writer Rahila Gupta. It is a story of severe disability, of battles, struggles, challenges and the frustration of being misunderstood. But above all it is the story of a mother’s everlasting love for a very special child- a child who, the audience soon realises, has the perfect combination of intelligence and innocence.

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