Pleasance Courtyard – Baby Grand
It’s early in the day at the Pleasance Baby Grand and a group of about 40 school children are awaiting the start of Blue Badge Bunch: ReRamped, when our host, Benny Shakes, energetically takes to the floor. There’s a definite moment of adjustment as the audience settle in. After all, a compere with distinctly impaired speech and slightly shaking limbs is not something you see every day. But what Benny lacks in motor skills he more than makes up for with an infectiously warm and welcoming personality. He quickly has the whole audience on his side and engaged with the gameshow. Benny is assisted by the brilliantly funny Mark Nicholas, who has autism, which means he has some issues with social interaction. But you would never guess that if he hadn’t told us. And that’s largely the bottom line here: you can’t judge people’s aptitude based on their more obvious disabilities, so just treat them as unique individuals.
Today’s aim is to introduce the audience to some of the difficulties that people with disabilities face on a daily basis, and have them understand more fully by attempting the tasks for themselves. The kids are all equipped with whiteboards and pens, ready to take part, but not quite knowing what to expect. And that’s when they’re asked to take their socks off… Through a series of hilarious challenges, the contestants attempt to draw using only their feet, make a sandwich with only one hand and whilst being repeatedly poked (simulating chronic pain), or communicate using only descriptions or images. It’s all very funny, with butter flying round the place, ridiculous drawings emerging and the audience participating enthusiastically, particularly in the shaky dancing. But it’s also massively enlightening.
Benny and Mark do an amazing job of empowering the audience, by making them an active part of the discussion. There’s a frank, inclusive thread of education that runs throughout, as issues of disability, expectation and reality are raised in a fun environment. It’s a safe space for difficult questions and the kids feel that, so are willing to ask these. It’s also understood that armed with their new knowledge it’s going to be up to them to change the way society relates to people with disabilities, by tackling prejudice. A big ask perhaps, but they are all game for it!
As part of the show we get to see some of Benny’s photos, which are kind of blurry and streaky because he shakes. I have to say, they would not be out of place in a gallery, as those images contain and express the essence of his disability made beautiful. I’d definitely go to see that exhibition.
This is an inspired, fabulously disruptive piece of work and expertly executed. Everyone seemed to leave feeling great and on a mission to change the world. I’m ready to see it put on the telly now.
Produced by Ingenious Fools
Blue Badge Bunch Reramped plays at EdFringe 2023 at Pleasance Courtyard until 28 August. Further information and bookings can be found here. The show will then be touring the UK, full dates available here.