31 October 2009
Colin Hambrook reviews a Channel 4 comedy drama which gives lead roles to six disabled actors. Cast Offs starts on 24 November at 11pm.
I have been eagerly anticipating the new Channel 4 comedy drama series Cast Offs, having been blown away by the stereotype-overturning adaption of The Hunchback of Notre Dame that writers Jack Thorne and Alex Bulmer put together with Graeae, for BBC Radio 4 last year.
Labelled a six-part 'mockumentary', the series tells the story of six disabled characters sent to a remote British island for a fictional reality TV show. Cast Offs’ is a metaphor for disabled peoples’ invisibility and the feeling, that many of us have, that society would dearly like to get rid of us.
The first episode, available for press previews, introduces us to Dan. He is a twenty-something wheelchair-user, coming to terms with disability, who has joined the local wheelchair basketball team. There is a lot of discomfort as we see him being interviewed with his father by spoof reality tv producers.
We see Dan attempting to assert himself as his father struggles to allow his son independence, unable to stop himself from being over-protective.
Family scenes are intercut with clips of the arrival on the island and introductions to the rest of the cast. After all these years of making a fuss about the amount of disability portrayal by non-disabled actors we see on tv and film, it is something to finally see a drama which gives the disability community some credibility.
Developing relationships between the characters puts the tension between different impairment groups in context. There is a scene in which Gabriella (Sophie Woolley) complains she can’t lip read what Carrie (Kiruna Stamell) says because her mouth is too small, and another in which Will (Mat Fraser) inadvertently puts his foot in dung by making a joke about cherubism.
The humour is subtly dark and defiant. I loved Tom, the blind character played by Tim Gebbels. He has some great lines, delivered with the dead-pan wit: “I was promised women and guns; well women with guns. I have been very disappointed so far.”
Having landed on the island, Carrie is reading through directions the fictional reality tv producers have left for their “differently-abled” subjects for self-sufficiency.
Tom responds; “Cast-Offs is that what they call us – I like it. It sounds sexy. Sort of like rub-off, but not quite.”
I don’t know whether Cast Offs will do what C4 drama commissioner Alison Walsh hopes, and be “the show that gives the same sort of impact for disabled people as Queer As Folk did for the gay agenda.”
However, I think the appearance on screen of Victoria Wright as April will challenge the BBC Blue Peter’s ‘Smile Campaign’ for the Operation Smile charity.
Not that Vicky doesn't have a lovely smile, but rather, Blue Peter clearly believe people with facial disfigurements are incapable of smiling. I hope at the very least the series will raise debate by questioning the notion there is no life for disabled people unless there is a cure.