Learning disability students saddle-up for show premiere

Joe Sproulle of Dark Horse Theatre Company performs during the show of Sing Something Simple at Doncaster Cast. Picture: Andrew Roe
Joe Sproulle of Dark Horse Theatre Company performs during the show of Sing Something Simple at Doncaster Cast. Picture: Andrew Roe

Dark Horse theatre company artistic director Vanessa Brooks is a passionate believer that actors with learning disabilities can do their job as well as anyone else.

The group is premiering a show called Sing Something Simple at Cast in Doncaster this week with a mixture of actors with and without learning disabilities.

Dark Horse, based in Huddersfield, also trains actors with learning disabilities, said Vanessa.

She added: “What we are saying is that if you give actors and students the same tools as anybody else, they can do the same job in the same way. This was revolutionary within the industry.

“If you do give people the equipment, they can work in TV studios and other settings.

Eight of our actors featured in an episode of Shameless and work professionally.”

Vanessa, who grew up with an older sister Fiona who has Down’s syndrome, has worked as a playwright, actor and director in TV, commercial theatre and comedy.

She joined Dark Horse after working for them as a writer on a project and found the whole way they work fascinating.

Actors don’t start by learning lines but go through the physical actions of their scenes first, which helps them to get to grips better with the dialogue when they add it in later, line by line.

Vanessa said: “It was extraordinary. I loved it.

“Sometimes things just happen at the right time and for the right reason. The post of artistic director was vacant and I thought I could do with a real change.”

Vanessa said that Dark Horse has a reputation as a company that produces excellent and exciting work.

She said: “People recognise us for what we do. People with learning disabilities have scenes that are believable and have well-rounded characters as well. The approach should be positive.

“We make really interesting theatre.”

Vanessa has written and directed bittersweet comedy Sing Something Simple, which stars Joe Sproule, an actor with Down’s syndrome, as Spencer Parkin.

He can’t sing but everyone around him can. His mum belts out ’80s power ballads, his best friend Bonnie is a karaoke queen and his brother Kit is heading for pop stardom. Fed up with living in all their shadows, Spencer goes on a quest for musical fame which leads all the way to the Royal Albert Hall, inspired by his late granddad, Gerry Parkin. Gerry was a medley singer on the famous easy listening radio show.

Vanessa said: “Joe Sproule is remarkable. He carries the show and it’s an extraordinarily nuanced performance. He’s carrying a huge amount of text. He is a product of the actor training here and it works for him. It’s great that he’s getting to do the job that he wants to do and very clearly was born to do.”

Sing Something Simple is at Cast until tomorrow.

Box office: call 01302 303959 or go online at http://castindoncaster.com/