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Reviews/Cabaret/Fringe World Festival/Musical Theatre

On the right wavelength

13 February 2020

Patrick Gunasekera is relieved to find The Aspie Hour is a smart, funny cabaret that doesn’t talk down to people with disability.

Review: Smedley and Smyth, The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights, The Aspie Hour ·
The Blue Room, 11 February 2020 ·
Review by Patrick Gunasekera ·

If you want to experience the lively spectacle of Broadway musicals from the more intimate setting of a black box theatre, as well as getting a glimpse into musical theatre fandom through the lives of two highly dedicated devotees, then look no further than The Aspie Hour.

The show is created and performed by Ballarat-trained musical theatre graduates Ryan Smedley and Sophie Smyth. It follows their real-life adventures of travelling to New York and finding strength through musicals while living with Asperger’s.

Accompanied by sumptuous pre-recorded piano tracks, this small-scale cabaret features original songs with gorgeous rhymes and iconic chord progressions, with some very cleverly rewritten Broadway hits in the mix, too. The choreography is also packed with many gleefully re-appropriated musical theatre tropes.

While the opportunity was there for additional design elements in the way of props, set or projections, I felt completely transported by the dazzling use of colour LEDs and explosive performances (metaphorically speaking), with rich vocals, joyous harmonies, and the perfectly executed demeanour of Broadway sweethearts and heroes.

Central to the show for me, as an autistic, is the crip* humour and the joy of seeing myself represented onstage in a refreshingly whole way – from our pickiness, to our uncontrollably literal readings of everything, to our expectation that it’s completely okay to tell people exactly what we feel in all situations. I was able to laugh at the many frustrating but nonetheless fun things that come with being on the spectrum, and in a way that lifted us up rather than reinforcing the old message that we are not good people.

The diligently fleshed-out and three-dimensional storytelling, shedding light on the funny and the not-so-funny bits on their own terms, is testament to the autonomous nature of the work and the level of agency the artists had over it. We can tell when a disabled artist has been asked to put something onstage in a certain way to tick a box or to maintain an ableist social power dynamic, and it hurts to see this.

In The Aspie Hour, the stories are told through our own self-definitions. Additionally, the artists are not seeking the approval of (en)abled audiences, nor making a show about their own Aspie lives for others to feel good about themselves by way of inspiration porn or patting audiences on the back for doing the bare minimum. This approach creates a strong, smart, and generous show, not just for (en)abled audiences, but for everyone. “No more hiding, no more lying. Just you, and that’s enough.”

The Aspie Hour is a warm and witty intimate cabaret, at times high-spirited, at other times poignant, but always pulsating with a tenacious and happy heartbeat.

* A note on language: I use the language of the social model of disability, which makes a distinction between impairment and disability. It defines disability as barriers encountered in society, hence the language of specifically being disabled by a society that places social, attitudinal and architectural barriers in our way. Crip is an inclusive, positive term representing the joys of disability culture and community, and the contemporary disability rights movement. Referring to non-disabled people as (en)abled is inspired by the writing of Eli Clare.

The Aspie Hour is at the Blue Room until 15 February 2020.

Pictured top: Sophie Smyth and Ryan Smedley in ‘The Aspie Hour’. Photo: Annie Warren

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Zal Kanga-Parabia

Author —
Patrick Gunasekera

Patrick Gunasekera is a queercrip Sinhala artist working across performance, visual media, and writing. After reading a poorly written review on a show about disability, he got into arts writing to critically engage with touchy topics that affect him personally. He loved the monkey-bars as a kid because he wanted strong arms. Photo by Zal Kanga-Parabia.

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