6 UK Theatre Companies You Need to Know for Disability Pride Month

Article Image
Photo Source: Quiplash / Christopher Andreou Photography

Now, more than ever, theatre is striving to improve its inclusivity. This work tends to focus on ethnic diversity and LGBTQ+ representation, but there’s another marginalised group that must also be included: people with disabilities.

People with disabilities, which includes people who self-identify as having a physical disability, learning disability, and/or mental illness, are a valuable part of our industry and society. However, they often face barriers due to preconceptions of their ability to participate in theatre.

While progressive strides have been taken to improve accessibility for audiences, with captioned, audio-described and relaxed performances becoming more common, some companies are leading the charge in putting people with disabilities at the forefront of their work.

So, in celebration of Disability Pride Month, here are six UK theatre companies that are leading the charge for disability inclusion in the performing arts.

JUMP TO

Graeae Theatre Company

Probably the best-known company on this list, Graeae Theatre Company has pioneered accessibility for people with disabilities since its founding in 1980.

The company explores a variety of theatre genres, with previous productions including Blasted by Sarah Kane and Belonging, an aerial production performed in Brazil and at the Roundhouse Theatre.

Through their creative training programmes, access support for venues and inclusion training for the creative sector, Graeae continues to be a powerful trailblazer, placing D/deaf and disabled artists and audience accessibility at the centre of their work.

Looking for your next stage or screen role? Check out our UK castings

Dark Horse Theatre

Dark Horse is one of the leading learning-disabled theatre companies in England. Made up of eight company members with learning disabilities, Dark Horse tours original productions around the country, occasionally joined by non-learning-disabled actors from the wider industry. 

Dark Horse also provides vocational actor training for people with learning disabilities, preparing them to work on equal terms with their non-learning-disabled peers in the professional industry. Their most recent production, The Garden, featured their final-year acting students and was performed to live audiences as well as being adapted into a digital piece.

Birds of Paradise Theatre

Touring theatre company Birds of Paradise began in 1993 as Scotland’s first to actively employ both disabled and non-disabled actors.

From these beginnings, the company has expanded, collaborating across the UK and internationally. Birds of Paradise became disability-led in 2012, the only professional Scottish company to be so.

Their productions span a variety of scales, from Robert Softley Gale’s one-man show Come to Bed With Me to the quadrilingual Miranda & Caliban: The Making of a Monster featuring D/deaf and disabled performers from the UK and Hong Kong.

Through its world-class, accessible work and support of disabled artists, Birds of Paradise continues to challenge the barriers people with disabilities face in the theatre industry.

Oily Cart Theatre

Oily Cart creates work for all young people of all ages. Founded in 1981, they began creating shows for under-fives. When a school for children with severe learning disabilities asked them to perform for their students, Oily Cart’s mission expanded to include young people with a variety of support needs.

Today, Oily Cart creates multi-sensory shows for children with a variety of complex needs and their families. This has carried over into their lockdown show Space to Be. Rather than a livestream, the performance was sent in a series of packages to audiences over one week, allowing them to experience the story in a fully sensory way.

Over the years Oily Cart has continued to develop their practice, further challenging the notion that any audience is “impossible” to create theatre for.

Taking Flight Theatre

As well as creating work with D/deaf and disabled actors alongside non-disabled actors, Taking Flight provides inclusive training and mentoring programmes for people who identify as D/deaf and/or disabled.

Taking Flight’s work strives to authentically reflect the world. Their recent trilingual production Fow is being performed at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, combining English, Welsh, and British Sign Language (BSL) to tell a story about love and breakdowns in communication.

Through their extensive accessibility work, Taking Flight Theatre has become a source of advice and guidance for Welsh companies looking to improve their inclusivity. 

Quiplash

Quiplash’s mission is to promote access and inclusion in both LGBTQ+ and pro-disabled spaces by supporting queer artists with disabilities.

Through consultation, facilitating access for queer events and running workshops and training for organisers, Quiplash is working to lift up the voices of artists that identify as both queer and disabled, and address the lack of access for and erasure of people with disabilities in queer spaces.

Having celebrated their second birthday earlier this year, Quiplash were recently announced as Associate Artists at Brixton House, signalling a bold future ahead for the fledgling company.

Seeing yourself reflected and having your voice heard is an empowering feeling. And it’s just as true for our colleagues and audiences with disabilities as it is for anyone else. While there’s still work to be done in the wider industry, these companies are continuing to prove that theatre can be accessible if we choose to make it so.

So, if you’re hearing about these companies for the first time, buy a ticket and see their work. Odds are it’ll be an enlightening experience.

More industry advice for UK actors? Click here.