Thursday, 20 December 2012

Bah Humbug! Newham Council Halts 'Too Political' Performance by Disabled Theatre Group

It has been some time since I have been able to add a new blog post, due to the total shoulder replacement operation I had on 7 November and the long period of recuperation that followed (t was only yesterday that I was finally allowed to type with both hands). So with Christmas approaching, I wanted to share a festive story, one that reflects badly on Newham council and its attitude towards disabled people but is eventually heart-warming in its proof of the power of direct action.

In 2011, the council started to provide free space at Katherine Road Community Centre for a community group of disabled performers, Act Up Theatre, to rehearse and perform their play "Changing Attitudes". This year the group was asked to perform a new play at a council Christmas event held yesterday at the Old Town Hall in Stratford.

However, just days before the performance, the group was told that it had been cancelled, because the play, "Atos Stories", was not festive enough and too political.. A statement from the council said:, "we do not consider political satire or potentially distressing material to be in keeping with the theme or tone of this event". .This is despite the fact that, a month beforehand, Act Up Theatre had provided information about the play and were advised the council were happy for them to perform.

In a statement on Monday, Act Up said:
"We are deeply disappointed that despite having information about the play for over a month, Newham Council have not chosen to discuss this with Act Up until the 14th December. We are also disappointed that the Council hasn't stopped to consider the enormous barriers Act Up have overcome to even perform the play. The group have been working hard for the last three months, they deserve to be treated with far more respect than this.

We wrote Atos Stories because we were mad at Atos. We wanted people with disabilities and without to have vehicle to challenge the Work Capability Assessment in a creative and dramatic way. We thought Atos might stop that from happening. We never thought a local council would."
Yesterday, members of the group picketed the council's event, briefly blocking the the Old Town Hall. Proving the immensely positive impact of direct action, embarrassed council officers have apologised for what they called a 'fatal error' in the way they had dealt with the situation and have hurriedly promised to give Act Up an opportunity to perform at another council event in January.

In 2013, it might be a good idea too for the group to re-stage its play "Changing Attitudes" for the benefit of council staff, for it seems that some attitudes towards disabled people haven't changed that much, despite the repeated pledges made in the approach to the Paralympics this summer. Sadly,. Newham council seems more than happy to associate itself with Paralympians wrapped in the Union flag, but it baulks at the idea of people with disabilities who are political and justifiably angry about their treatment by Atos.

If you get a chance, do check out the Atos Christmas Carol Song Sheet, which is superb: all together now:
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,
Let nothing ye dismay,
For Atos your good saviour
will take your pains away,
And force you down to Tesco
To work till Christmas Day

Oh Tidings of Comfort and Joy, Comfort and Joy!

More information on the campaign against Atos can be found on the Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) website at


bob smith said...

kevin - welcome back and thanks for the post. I hope you are making a good recovery. Happy holidays.

Anonymous said...

I think you are OTT here, and likewise the Council employee who called this a "fatal error"(duh ?) Hardly that. Once incident such as this hardly indicates general (or even any)negative attitudes towards the disabled from the Council where time, effort,and money is devoted to the complete contary. If attitudes are so negative why the free "let" of the car park ? Far more significant that this little scrape.

Moreover the decision to decline an overtly political contribution to a completely different sesonal event was not a "fatal" decision but probably the correct onean not related to the nature of the group at all.

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