New play shows disability with dignity

Flower Girls: Richard Cameron, New Wolsey, Theatre Ipswich until SaturdayThe John Grooms Crippleage, set up in Edgware in the 1930s, provided often rejected disabled girls with a home.

Flower Girls: Richard Cameron, New Wolsey, Theatre Ipswich until Saturday

The John Grooms Crippleage, set up in Edgware in the 1930s, provided often rejected disabled girls with a home. Rather in the watercress seller tradition, it also gave them work, making artificial flowers For all its sterling and radical efforts, the Crippleage's very name indicates only too clearly that these weren't enlightened times for disabled people.

Richard Cameron's play is set during two related and significant eras in the Crippleage's history. One is during the early years of the War, the other in 1965.

With the constant threat of air raids, the earlier era was when children were sent to the Crippleage from another John Grooms institution, an orphanage at Clacton. They were moved to Edgware, (and some to Shropshire) when a bomb was dropped on the beach.


You may also want to watch:


The later period was when men arrived at the Crippleage, another significant change. The scenes shuttle between the two timeframes, with different actors but with various characters, offstage, common to both. One - Sally (Sonia Cakebread) is the strong-minded woman who bitterly regrets her rejection when her father remarried and his new wife did not want to take on a disabled child. She forlornly wants her own family whereas another inmate, Lilly (Karina Jones), does have a boyfriend, has become pregnant and had an abortion.

We don't see Sally in the second era. She's in hospital dying of bowel cancer and characters from the sixties era go off to visit her.

Most Read

Using the reminiscences of people who lived at the Crippleage, Cameron addresses the crucial issues of human dignity and independence. It's a play about the human spirit not just of people with disabilities but of all of us. It's full of humour, sadness, anger, crisis, and self-preserving wit.

This is a co-production between the New Wolsey and Graeae, a company that describes itself as the country's leading disabled-led theatre company. It's jointly directed by Jenny Sealey of Graeae and the New Wolsey's Peter Rowe.

Performed on Sophia Lovell Smith's multi-cubicle set, the play tells its story in a series of short scenes, with plenty of action, movement, quick changes and a fair bit of rough banter.

Sophie Partridge gives an expressive, thoughtful reading of Joan, Nicola Miles-Wildin's Alice is chirpily stroppy, forever fearing rejection, Karina Jones is elegantly guilty and self-recriminatory and Lynne Goddard, is raucously earthy. It's a play that has much to tell us.

Ivan Howlett

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter