Perfect Show for Rachel, Barbican Theatre

by Laura Kressly

Inclusion and engagement are a core part of Zoo Co, a theatre company of disabled and non-disabled artists that intrinsically embeds access in their work. This does does the same thing, though Artistic Director Flo O’Mahony takes a different approach to accessibility in this production. Inspired by her learning disabled sister Rachel’s joy in telling people what to do, this show is just for Rachel.

That doesn’t mean the rest of us along for the ride don’t benefit. This is a generous piece with a huge heart. The fantastic ensemble of artists are pre-loaded with 39 songs, dances, scenes and sketches catering specifically to Rachel’s interests. She can chose any of these options she wants at any time, from her position at a bespoke control panel. Whatever Rachel wants, Rachel gets. This means the show is likely to differ every night, depending on what Rachel wants in the moment. In this particular performance, Rachel chose the routine choreographed to The Streets “Who’s Got the Bag” about five times, and a song/sketch about Flo’s boyfriend Mark’s unemployment three times.

The cast embrace the repetition by acknowledging it within the scenes. When Mark is fired and rehired from the show several times, he leans into the confusion. The execution of the energetic “Who’s Got the Bag” choreography gives away their fatigue, but they don’t try to hide it. After all, in this show, Rachel is in charge of the room. It’s hilarious, and the unpredictability is immensely fun. The content is, too. Also showcased was Stephen Collins’ fetching rendition Kylie Minogue and a delightful game where Rachel throws a ball at the cast, who are decked with bowling pin caps.

The production demonstrates that placing access and inclusion at the heart of a work’s dramaturgy, rather than adding it later in the production process, is not detrimental to its quality. In fact, it’s the opposite. With suitable access provisions and structures in place to support them, disabled people can make outstanding art that is poignant, joyful and celebratory.

Perfect Show for Rachel runs through 26 November.

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