Review by Harry Bower
If there was an audio description of me while watching It’s AMotherf**king Pleasure, it might go something like this: “Harry, a white man with a goatee beard, sits in the front row, his face twisting and convulsing as he laughs continuously at the show unfolding in front of him, and is encouraged to feel the performer’s chest”. That last bit is as true as the first, I do have a goatee beard – and I was encouraged to feel Aarian Mehrabani’s chest at the beginning of the show. Not because the word ‘pleasure’ in the title of this show is the operative word, but as part of a faux touch tour at the surreal beginning of one of the funniest, and smartest shows I’ve seen all year.
Fresh from their VAULT Festival Debuts, Mehrabani forms one part of a threesome, Chloe Palmer and Samuel Brewer completing FlawBored, the company behind this brave, witty, and depressingly believable satirical take on society’s treatment and view of disabled people. The writing, Josh Roche contributing as part of the company, is razor sharp. It’s rare to find a show with so much meaningful commentary on a serious issue that manages to remain so balanced in its walking of the tightrope-of-preaching, without compromising the entertainment value. Instead, FlawBored have created something which straddles both ends of extreme stereotypes, creating powerful meaning behind the ridiculous, and genuine hilarity from taboo subjects.
The show opens with some chaotic audience interaction, a pacey and charming introduction to the characters and the concept of the piece. Without ruining the narrative for you, it’s a laugh a minute as the cast lurch from one accommodation to the next, visibly, and gloriously demonstrating how unsustainable it would be to address each individual’s needs in the audience. The humour is relatively dark, but never beyond the pale and always well judged. We are absolutely laughing with the performers rather than atthem. Jokes about disabilities, being gay, being Australian, being able-bodied, identity politics, and having a tight ass, all live alongside each other in perfect harmony – keeping the audience on their toes and sometimes inspiring laughter so loud the performers struggled to be heard.
It's not all about laughter, though. There is a more seriousmessage underpinning everything, which is told through the prism of a traditional play format. RIZE (with a Z), a fictional PR agency, are in a frenzy over something they’ve done which has them accused of ableism. A manager (played by Brewer), who happens to be blind, sees this as their opportunity to make both cash, and an impact on the world, à la the #MeToo movement. Thus ensues a predictably outrageous plan to have a blind influencer on Instagram (Mehrabani) lead a new campaign which glorifies blindness and sells disability products, like a dating app with no pictures, or events in which sighted people experience life as a blind person. Throw in a nervous and able-anxious HR director (Palmer), and inevitably this plan results in some sticky outcomes - eventually represented by one of the most uncomfortable (and brilliant) audio descriptions I’ve ever experienced sat in a theatre.
Technology is used throughout the show in a clever way, with a live-captioning projector screen hanging over the performance space. The use of captioning to add story and humour reminded me of another show I saw in the Vaults, Good Grief. Both shows have used this to great effect, and it does make you wonder how live captioning can be used more widely in theatre not just for accessibility but as part of the show. Lighting throughout is equally great, Alex Musgrave delivering some subtle (and some not so subtle) states which are complimentary rather than distracting.
Accessibility and theatre are not a marriage made in heaven, if such a place exists. Instead, they often have a murky and complex relationship – the complexity usually being that if you have access needs, good luck. Things have dramatically improved in recent years, but from such a low base that nobody with a disability would thank you for it – theatres, production companies, writers, advocates – all of us need to work much harder. This is a show which rips up the rule book on accessible theatre, taking the micky out of said rule book throughout in the process.
It's A Motherf**king Pleasure is a form-breaking smash hit. In Soho Theatre’s intimate Upstairs space it fits like a glove, bringing the audience on an journey of hilarious awarenessand biting satirical commentary with an energy and enthusiasm which is infectious. Its 65-minute run time feels like not enough – I could have spent double that time in the company of these performers, each of whom is outstanding in their own right. With a meaningful and increasingly urgent message at its foundation, this show builds layer upon layer of social commentary, not just about disability and ableism but of social media culture, the corporate world, the dangers ofvirtue signalling and identity politics, and so much more. That those layers are so much fun to peel away at is testament to the creative and intelligent writing which left my face aching as I left the theatre. Truly, what a mother**king pleasure.
It’s A Motherf**king Pleasure plays at the Soho Theatre until 13 May 2023. For more information and tickets visit: https://sohotheatre.com/shows/its-a-motherfking-pleasure/
Photos by Alex Brenner