The first of six productions in The Bunker Theatre’s inaugural BREAKING OUT season is Amy Bethan Evans’ play Libby’s Eyes. Inspired by her own experience with the PIP system, the play explores our varying definitions of the word ‘functioning’ and how it affects the way we live our lives – what are the implications for the people around us?
Both Libby and her dad have visual impairments and over the years have developed their own coping strategies, as well as harnessing technology to allow them to go about everyday tasks (such as reading the newspaper and responding to emails). All this is thrown on its head when the government announces that people will henceforth be classified as either ‘functioning’ or ‘non-functioning’; easily holding down a job and being fairly independent, Libby obviously considers herself to be the former, but the rub is that by using all her helpful technology she technically can’t be put in that bracket, as it’s not recognised under the new system. By showing willing, however, she’s granted use of a new piece of technology that’s classed as “reasonable assistance”. It’s able to recognise shapes and can remember a person from their thumbprint – it should be perfect, but when its behaviour starts to evolve beyond any expectations Libby’s job and status as a functioning person are both put under threat.
As a neat touch, one of the actors (mostly Louise Kempton) will always be acting as an audio describer (of sorts) – there to help any visually impaired audience members, but also occasionally being something of a narrator. It’s interesting to get some idea of what this assistance can be like, having never needed to make use of it myself. Going forward, this role could be better incorporated into the piece as a whole; ideally losing the script (this factor does completely ruin the opening moment, sadly) and perhaps getting rid of a few of the attempted jokes as they are quite samey and not all of them land. The jokey references to Libby’s “inspirational” status are also slightly overdone, even if Libby herself does raise her eyebrows at it too.
All this aside, it provides a fascinating insight into what people go through to prove they’re able to just get on with things, with goalposts changing at the whim of a particular government. The complete lack of understanding by the people who are in charge of looking out for their welfare is staggering; obviously we haven’t got as far as literally classifying people as non-functioning, forcing them to forfeit free healthcare and not being recognised as a real person, but this is a terrific representation of what government measures can feel like to those affected.
As bleak as it sounds, this is an incredibly funny piece of theatre. Don’t let the early start time fool you into thinking it’s a clean ride: Libby has inherited her dad’s potty’ mouth as well as the visual impairments! Could her robot assistant (named Libby’s Eye, or L.E.) also pick up on this behaviour? The cast are great at bringing this humour to life, including Ariane Gray delivering some extraordinary lines in the robotic delivery of L.E., and Adam Elms’ portrayal of Libby’s cantankerous & sarcastic dad Ron. Comedian Georgie Morrell is perfectly cast as Libby; she has great comic timing (as expected) and Libby’s fiercely independent attitude down to a tee. Her position as a visually impaired actor lends a natural authority to her performance – and rather proves Evans’ point.
My verdict? A sharp & funny piece examining ableism and the meaning of ‘defect’, shedding more light on the position of someone with a visual impairment – some great performances bring it vividly to life.
Libby’s Eyes runs at The Bunker Theatre as part of the BREAKING OUT season until 5 July 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office, including a limited number of £10 tickets for U30s and £22 double bill passes.