MADHOUSE re:exit

Access All Areas

Content by Chloe Nelkin Consulting

Learning disabled artists campaign and provoke in a striking new piece of theatre in East London.

This March, award winning theatre company Access All Areas will present MADHOUSE re:exit – an interactive, immersive experience at Shoreditch Town Hall, inspired by the institutionalisation of people with learning disabilities in the UK. This innovative production will then transfer to the Lowry’s festival Week 53 in May.

Set in a corporate care facility that promises a revolution in social services, five learning disabled artists will take the audience on a fantastical, disruptive journey that explores what institutions mean to people with learning disabilities today.

With a refusal to be silent, and a history of being ignored, these artists will reside in a maze-like institution, growling to be heard, and waiting for a revolution that is forever promised. Illusionist David Munns questions whether the Victorian label of freak persists today; choreographer DJ Hassan spins between joy and loneliness; Dayo Koleosho asks how easy it is for learning disabled people to live independently; Imogen Roberts celebrates the ancient Olmec tribe who worshipped those with Down Syndrome as gods; and acclaimed performance poet Cian Binchy imagines himself as London’s oldest baby. 

Binchy, who was the autism consultant on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and whose autobiographical show The Misfit Analysis is now touring the world, began to respond artistically to how government cuts effect his life after Theresa May was confronted by a voter with a learning disability on the campaign trail.  For Binchy, this now infamous exchange highlighted how little the government understands the support needs of people with learning disabilities.

Binchy comments, People with learning disabilities aren’t listened to. There isn’t the right support for people like me with milder learning disabilities. We used to be locked away in institutions for life. Now we’re just stuck at home, and in some ways it’s like our bedrooms have become like institutions because we’re stuck there with nothing to do. We’re just ignored, and treated like we don’t exist.

Over two years, Access All Areas has been working with people with learning disabilities, both professional artists and community participants, to learn about how previous generations of people with learning disabilities were treated, and to respond to how government policy effects people with learning disabilities today. MADHOUSE re:exit has built on the legacy of Mabel Cooper, a learning disabled resident of a long-stay hospital, who campaigned to have these institutions banned in the UK and pressed the button that blew up one of the last of these hospitals.

Access All Areas will stage unique pop-up performances linked to MADHOUSE re:exit around London before the main performances in March. Cian Binchy will appear at Duckie at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern on Saturday 3rd February, DJ Hassan at The Places’s Resolution Festival on Monday 19th February and Imogen Roberts at Steakhouse Live Festival 2018 on Sunday 25th February.


Artistic Director of Access All Areas, Nick Llewellyn, comments The history of the institutionalisation of people with learning disabilities being locked away in long stay hospitals is a very recent history, with the changes that were long fought for being forgotten and the progress being vanished from the public consciousness. With MADHOUSE re:exit, we cross-reference the past with our current climate and the lack of a holistic support structures for people with learning disabilities. We examine how the four walls of the hospitals where people were locked away from society are now being replaced with the four walls of people’s bedrooms, as they have a lack of opportunities for engagement or support. We show five different artists’ experiences of contemporary confinement, whilst finding parallels with the past.

MADHOUSE re:exit has been developed with the Barbican, Shoreditch Town Hall, The Lowry, Battersea Arts Centre, Wellcome Trust, Arts Council England, and the Open University.

Access All Areas makes urban, disruptive performance by learning disabled and autistic artists.  As well as mounting professional touring productions through our performance company, we run a range of exciting and innovative projects for people with a broad range of learning disabilities. We deliver the Performance Making Diploma at the Central School of Speech and Drama and have an industry-first partnership with agency Simon & How to represent seven professional actors with learning disabilities.

We believe passionately in the importance of including learning disabled artistic voices at all levels of society, to help create an artistic community that is made more vibrant, more varied and more relevant by including a range of voices.

Access All Areas was formed in 1967 as Rainbow Drama Group. The company won the Guardian University Award for Student Diversity and Widening Participation in 2015 and were finalists in the National Learning Disability and Autism Awards 2017. In 2017 the organisation will enter Arts Council England’s National Portfolio.

MADHOUSE re:exit

Tuesday 13 - Wednesday 28 March

Developed with the Barbican, Shoreditch Town Hall, The Lowry, Battersea Arts Centre, Wellcome Trust, Arts Council England, and the Open University.

Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old Street, London EC1V 9LT

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