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30 November 2009

By Mandy Redvers-Rowe

image of actors upper body Photo by Ted D'Ottavio

Writer/actor Mat Fraser performs From Freak to Clique at DaDaFest 09. Photo by Ted D'Ottavio

Image: Photo by Ted D'Ottavio

From Freak To Clique is a work-in-progress by Mat Fraser, currently starring in Channel 4s' Cast Offs. Mandy Redvers-Rowe caught Mat's performance - commissioned by DaDaFest - at the Bluecoat, Liverpool on 27 November 2009

Mat Fraser, 'the most genetically disturbing man on the stage,' is just one of those very watchable, very funny, charming performers. The sort that could simply stand on stage and read out the back of a Cornflake packet and hold the attention of the entire Albert Hall.

But of course, last night he wasn’t doing that. No, in his new show From Freak To Clique currently in development, he was tackling something much more relevant. He was examining some of the reasons why Disabled actors spend most of their time unemployed; why the industry has no place for them on a mainstream stage, on television or in films; why they still prefer non-disabled actors to play disabled characters and why including anyone with a real visible disability causes audiences to complain.

Sounds heavy. But of course it wasn’t, no, it was comedy, or as Mat put it Traumedy, which is comedy with a bit of trauma thrown in.Yes, I have to admit, I laughed my way through the whole evening.

As Mat rambled through a short history of how disabled performers have made a living, from Roman times, through the emergence of the Freak Show, and how the predominant attitude displayed in the twentieth century meant that disabled people’s only opportunity to get in front of the camera meant humiliating themselves on 'Jim’ll Fix it.'

All done through sketches, anecdote, song and poetry. I particularly loved the Lionel Richie moment, the character of Blind Dave, and the seventies comedian.

However, for me the most stunning and thought-provoking part of the evening was when Mat came on to the stage in prosthetic arms and played the part of a non-disabled actor receiving an Oscar.

He then went into a strip routine, where he not only removed his clothes, but also his arms, so he, Mat Fraser stood fully exposed on the stage.

The music stopped, and he stood there, without clothes, without script, confronting us, hiding nothing. He spoke to us directly: "This puts me in a bit of a difficult situation." He went to his props table and had a drink, and then, whilst still talking he got dressed again. And I thought, is this the birth of the modern Freak Show?

Mat asked for feedback to help him develop the show, so here’s mine. At the moment I think this works as a piece of cabaret. I’d have liked to have been sitting in a more comfortable seat, drinking a vodka and tonic, and giggling with friends.

As a piece of theatre though, it needs a bit more work. It has many interesting elements but at the moment it’s lacking a dramatic angle, a hook, something to draw the audience in and keep them there.

Can I take this opportunity, though, to congratulate DaDaFest for offering disabled artists the opportunity to try out work in development? Last weekend I reviewed two shows, both of which were in development with the festival last year and are now fully formed and wonderful.

Artists need these opportunities. Until you try things out in front of an audience you don’t really know what works and what doesn’t. From my perspective, it has been a privilege to see this work in development. I very much hope that I get the opportunity to see Mat next year with ‘From Freak To Clique’ in its final incarnation.

Go and see it now though…after all, it is Mat Fraser, he is very good, and it’s definitely much more interesting than breakfast cereal!

For more information about DaDaFest 09 go the the DaDa website

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