With Our Country’s Good coming to West Yorkshire Playhouse very soon, I got chance to catch up with actor Gary Robson about his role, Ramps on the Moon and the importance of recognizing the talent of deaf and disabled performers…
Tell us a little bit about Ramps on the Moon – why is this movement so important?
Whilst deaf and disabled performers have achieved increasing recognition for their skill and craft it’s still rare to see them in mainstream shows. Graeae changed the theatre landscape with Reasons to be Cheerful and The Threepenny Opera and Ramps have picked up that baton. Each Ramps show puts together a large integrated cast of professional deaf and disabled performers, artists and technicians and non deaf and disabled performers, artists and technicians, allowing the groups to become familiar with each other’s working practices and sharing skills. The diversity of Ramps’ casts and crew always fully represent the richness diversity of the UK population. It is also an opportunity for mainstream theatres to experiment with the creative possibilities of embedded Sign Language, bespoke captioning and imaginative audio description. Not seeing them merely as tick box access tools but as another string to the creative artist’s bow.
Why should theatre lovers go along to see Our Country’s Good?
All the reasons above but mainly because it’s bloody good. All the things Ramps on the Moon aspires to would be a complete waste of time if the end product was anything other than high quality, entertaining theatre. Our County’s Good is a modern classic that tells an incredible true story – the first play performed on Australian soil was created by convicts sent to exile in Botany Bay – it’s deeply moving and at the same time very funny. The integrated company brings a unique take on this enduring classic and the tale of the ability of people to change if given the chance in a society that is getting rid of its “unwanted” speaks volumes to a contemporary audience.
West Yorkshire Playhouse does a lot of great work to raise the profile for hugely talented deaf and disabled actors. Do you have any particular inspirations?
Ian Dury was my first big influence. When I was growing up it was rare to find any disabled performer, let alone one in a positive role. Chester in Gunsmoke was about as far as it got till Mr Lovepants burst on the scene. Loved him in the Kilburns, then the incredible Blockheads blew me away. My rhythm stick was placed firmly into gear.
What has been your favourite show or project to take part in to date?
I’ve played Peachum in a couple of productions of Threepenny Opera and I love that part. The Who’s Rock Opera Tommy was an amazing experience, quite a delight as wicked Uncle Ernie to get booed every night, but when it comes down to it it has to be Reasons to be Cheerful just to be able to perform those amazing Dury songs every night.
What inspired you to first begin performing?
I think I’ve always been performing. I was the archetypal class clown. I’ve always had a burning desire to perform and I’ve been lucky enough to have that dream come true.
See Our Country’s Good at West Yorkshire Playhouse from 11th April-21st April.
Photograph courtesy of Nottingham Playhouse