Unleashed on London

This evening Captain Hotknives and I had our first London gig. Actually, not being people to do things by halves, we had three gigs at the Southbank Centre – part of the Unlimited Festival that’s taking place there this week.

The Festival showcases new work by disabled artists, and it has a wonderful inclusive atmosphere. I particularly enjoyed being one of the many wheelchair users, partly because it’s great to experience moments where people using their legs to get about are in the minority, and partly because the wheelchair-geek in me could check out everyone else’s chairs.

Before the first show Captain Hotknives and I had a practice in our dressing room and talked our British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter, Cathy, through our set to give her a taste of what was to come. She was very relaxed and took it all in her stride, but later my tics described signing for us as like the Krypton Factor for BSL interpreters and they were right.

The first set was great fun and went really well. Afterwards we had a half-hour break before going back on for the second. The way the show works is simple, we have a list of ideas and ticced songs and we let my tics change and influence these as we go along. I often describe it as a master class in spontaneity. We’ve only ever performed at festivals before, and I think we were both a little nervous about how it’d go down at the Southbank in the afternoon! But the audience seemed to enjoy it and I could see people laughing a lot.

During the show my tics go crazy and I get very overexcited, which I really enjoy, but I often struggle a bit immediately afterwards and feel exhausted and emotional. Yesterday this was exacerbated because I’d been in my costume for over two hours, had got really hot, and urgently needed a wee. Leftwing Idiot and Will reassured me and helped me focus on the practical things I needed to do to feel better, and within twenty minutes I felt settled again.

After a quick sound check for our late night gig we had a few hours to enjoy the Festival. There was a lovely food market so loads of choice about what to have for dinner. Lots of people I know were there so we set up next to the amazing water fountain and ate and chatted until it was time for Unlimited Unleashed. This riotous late night cabaret was a celebration of sexy, funny and fantastically freakish disabled performers – including Captain Hotknives and me.

The idea behind Unlimited Unleashed was for some of the artists from the festival to do a short performance that they don’t normally do.

At the start of the Cabaret all the performers involved had decided to do a ‘freaks flash mob’. This involved chanting ‘Gooble Gobble, Gooble Gobble, we accept you, one of us” inspired by the film Freaks from 1932.

Liz Carr, who was hosting, started off the chant and then the rest of us, all sitting in the audience, joined in one by one until the chant took over the whole space. We all made our way onto the stage still chanting, and then went off so the first act could begin. It was amazing to be involved in this incredibly powerful moment.

There were loads of great acts. I’d seen some of them a few years ago at Liberty Festival – back then I’d been in the audience, astonished by a whole new scene I was just discovering.

The first act, Blind Girl and the Crips, did their own version of ‘Poisoning Pigeons In The Park.’ I found it ridiculously over-stimulating, partly because of the subject matter and partly because there was a lot of ‘r-rolling’ which I find inexplicably hilarious. In fact rolling r’s was a recurrent feature of the evening, but I doubt anyone other than me and my support worker, Sylvie, were aware of this. It was impossible for Sylvie not to notice me squealing and flapped about every time an r was rolled.

Captain Hotknives and I were the last act on and we had a great time. I can’t imagine the Southbank’s ever reverberated to such a rude and chaotic sing-along.

The whole evening was amazing – performing alongside people who’ve I’ve long admired and who’ve played a key role in shaping my identity as a disabled person was fantastic. The thrill of Unlimited Unleashed will stay with me for a long time and I’m confident it won’t be forgotten by anyone who was lucky enough to be there either.

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