Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Actors with learning disabilities take anti-stigma play to Parliament

A group of actors with learning disabilities are to stage a play that highlights hate crime and prejudice against people with learning disabilities in Parliament later this month.

The play, Living Without Fear, tells the inside story of the hate crime, mate crime, prejudice, bullying, harassment and discrimination that young people with learning disabilities face, which often goes unnoticed or unreported. The actors’ own experiences have helped inspire the drama.

It is being staged by Blue Apple Theatre, an arts company that creates opportunities for actors with learning disabilities to perform in mainstream theatres and uses theatre to provoke debate around difficult issues.

As well as using real stories from people with learning disabilities, Blue Apple has worked closely with the police and other organisations to help shape the narrative. This includes the Equality and Human Rights Commission report Hidden in plain sight, its enquiry into disability-related harassment, and Mencap’s ‘Stand by Me’ campaign that tackles disability hate crime.

The play will be performed in Speaker’s House on April 24 at 7.30pm. Following this, the company will continue its tour across the southeast of England.

The script, written by playwright and film-maker William Jessop, 29, looks at why people commit disability hate crime or turn a blind eye to it and portrays the subtle forms of prejudice that people with learning disabilities encounter day-to-day.

“The play has some incredible stories that really pull the audience in for the ride and take them to some difficult places, but will hopefully leave them at the end asking all sorts of questions and feeling empowered to challenge disability hate crime and prejudice whenever they come across it,” William said.

“But this isn’t just an issue-based drama – its entertainment with a mix of tragedy and comedy so all the ingredients are there for a good night out at the theatre.”

Jane Jessop, founding director of Blue Apple, said the play’s aim was to provoke people into making a difference. “This is all going on under our noses but it’s hidden because we don’t want to believe shocking things can happen.

“We hope the audience will understand that people with learning disabilities are not just coping with disability but also a lot of prejudice, bullying and unfair comments. They’re ambitious to live their lives like anyone else and we can all watch out and speak up if we witness something we know is wrong.”

The actors at Blue Apple have a range of learning disabilities, such as autism, including Asperger syndrome, Down’s syndrome and behavioural difficulties. The discipline, challenge and excitement of learning lines, rehearsing and putting on a play helps them to develop new skills and increase their self-esteem, confidence and independence.

Tommy Jessop, 27, who has featured in Casualty and Holby City, plays the role of Bobby, a victim of ‘mate crime’. “The play has given me more experience with acting a complex part,” he said. “It also shows how powerful bullies can be and will stop bullies from bullying, hopefully.”

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