This May award-winning theatre company Access All Areas and The Lowry will present MADHOUSE re:exit – an immersive piece examining the experiences of five artists with learning disabilities and their isolation from society.
This groundbreaking production, part of Week 53 festival, will be the first major event at Barton Arcade’s new underground venue which plans to bring innovative events to central Manchester.
Here, theatre becomes political activism, drawing on the history of institutions, the government’s approach to support and austerity and what this means for people with learning disabilities today.
Fighting a history of being ignored, five learning disabled artists take the audience through a mazelike institution.
Acclaimed performance poet Cian Binchy, autism consultant on ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,’ responds to his experience and the absurdities of the benefits system in the UK. He imagines himself as ‘The UK’s oldest baby’, commenting on how recent government cuts to support mean that he is constantly treated as a child, without the possibility of a meaningful career or relationship.
Binchy comments, “People with learning disabilities aren’t listened to. There isn’t the right support for people like me with milder learning disabilities. We used to be locked away in institutions for life.
“Now we’re just stuck at home, and in some ways it’s like our bedrooms have become like institutions because we’re stuck there with nothing to do. We’re just ignored, and treated like we don’t exist.”
Over two years, Access All Areas’ performance company have researched how previous generations of people with learning disabilities were treated. MADHOUSE re:exit has built on the legacy of Mabel Cooper, a learning disabled resident of a long-stay hospital, who campaigned to have these institutions banned in the UK and pressed the button that blew up one of the last of these hospitals.
Artistic Director of Access All Areas, Nick Llewellyn, comments “The history of the institutionalisation of people with learning disabilities being locked away in long stay hospitals is a very recent history, with the changes that were long fought for being forgotten and the progress being vanished from the public consciousness. In MADHOUSE re:exit, we show five artists’ experiences of contemporary confinement, whilst finding parallels with the past.”