Review by Sam Waite
Learning something new can be a great deal of fun, or it can be frightfully dull. The aim behind Blue Badge Bunch, a family-friendly hour of entertainment presented as an interactive game show, is to make learning about disabilities, their impacts, and the accommodations made to support them as fun as possible. If you think that sounds hard to make entertaining, then you'd be presently surprised by the show.
Hosted by Benny Shakes, a comedian with cerebral palsy, Blue Badge Bunch has varying levels of interactivity which invite both adults and children in the audience to engage with the performers. Benny’s charming, likeable presence and clear willingness to inform and educate others creates an immediate feeling of welcomeness and inclusion. For the Vault Festival performances, and I would presume their shows elsewhere, BBB offered a relaxed atmosphere with house lights kept up throughout, and the hour was fully interpreted in British Sign Language.
A loose narrative involved regular panellist Mark Nicholas giving the wrong time to special guest Variety D in order to win the initial rounds, but this was quickly forgotten in favour of the games themselves. Having her enter partway through opened up the first game to the audience, where a volunteer was called forward to complete in an artistic challenge using only their feet. The challenge, like those which followed, served to highlight the potential difficulties of different disabilities – some people do not have the use of their hands or arms, should they have them at all, and must be more adaptable in how they approach basic tasks.
The balance between informative footage and discussion and actual gameplay well well-calibrated, and once both contestants were in place the audience as a whole was included in each game. In one particularly joyous moment, three members of the audience (myself included), donned foam fingers to poke at the cast members while they attempted to open and butter bread one-handed. This served to highlight the daily life of Benny Shakes himself, have one hand significantly weaker than the other and dealing with a fair amount of pain throughout the day.
Having started as something to entertain and amuse adults, a smart decision has been made along the way to make a family-oriented piece of work which remains informative for all ages. Be it learning how sentences of strung together with an electronic speaking aid, or guessing (or failing to) the sometimes outrageous prices of various items developed to make everyday activities more easily accessible, everyone in that audience agreed that they'd learn something during the hour.
Everyone on stage gets a moment to talk about themselves – botnknly their disabilities, but themselves as people and as entertainers. For the children in the crowd this served to inform about disabilities and their impacts, but also allows them to see at a young age that people's being multifaceted and living rich, engaging lives isn't hindered by them. For the adults, it serves as not only education but a reminder to have patience and kindness, as not every need for accommodation will be obvious, and many times the accommodation won't be available when it clearly should.
Far more thoughtful and enriching that 60 minutes of mindless games, and also more fun and physically engaging than an hour of learning would usually be, Blue Badge Bunch is a well-crafted and well-executed idea which deserves a larger audience, and will any luck will have one as they continue to present this show.
Following this Vault Festival appearance, Blue Badge Bunch continues to tour.
Visit https://bluebadgebunch.co.uk to keep track of future performances.