Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park
Reviewed – 11th May 2019
“despite being as tall as a building, it was endearing, and convincingly brought to life by a team of skilled puppeteers”
Something magical happened in a London park yesterday. A hundred local performers joined with a theatre company, some amazing puppeteers and a giant baby the size of a bus to enchant and enthral their audience. Some of the performers had learning disabilities or physical disabilities, and some did not. They were all equal parts of a team that had the audience whooping and dancing for joy at the end of this extraordinary show.
Zara is a co-production of Mind the Gap and Walk the Plank. Mind the Gap is one of Europe’s leading Learning Disabilities Theatre Companies and Walk the Plank specialises in spectacular , innovative outdoor productions. Putting these two companies together was a match made in heaven. The story of Zara is one that challenges perceptions of parenthood and disability. Can a person with learning disabilities be a good parent? Should they be allowed to try? Zara, played by JoAnne Haines, is a young woman who has learning disabilities. She has given birth to an enormous baby, a baby so big that it could be a danger to society. Social services want her to give the baby up, and they are so desperate that she should that they call in the army. But Zara is not alone, she has the support of a large group of people, determined to stand up for her and her huge child.
JoAnne Haines is the centre of the action, standing high above the audience she pours her love into her baby, and shares her worries and anxieties too. It’s a lovely performance, which includes some extraordinary flying work. To have a young learning disabled woman at the heart of such a huge, spectacular show is unusual. It is also a great success, Haines captured our hearts with her sincerity and vulnerability. Everyone was rooting for Zara.
The community cast took on different roles, some were soldiers, some Zara supporting protesters, and a hilarious group in Bio Hazard suits arrived to clean up after the baby’s first explosive, and psychedelic, poo! They sang, danced and acted their hearts out. There were cherry pickers and a tank. There was an atmospheric and soaring score, composed by Sarah Llewellyn and a soundscape that added wonderfully to the atmosphere and worked beautifully alongside the stunning 3D light projections. It truly was an unforgettable evening, a show with a giant baby and giant heart that demonstrated the power of a mother’s love and the power of community versus the faceless state.
The baby was designed by Francis Morgan and, despite being as tall as a building, it was endearing, and convincingly brought to life by a team of skilled puppeteers, dressed as midwives.
Director Joyce Nga Yu Lee has somehow managed to weave all the different strands of this huge show, both human and technical, into a truly successful piece of theatre that will stay with its performers and audiences for a long time. Not only for the actual show, but because of the issues it raises. Never preachy, always engaging, moving and very funny. Zara is a triumph and a joy.
Reviewed by Katre
Photography by Chris Payne
Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park
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