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Belters and bohemians: Opera Locos @Sadlers_wells

At the start of the Opera Locos performance, the announcement says that they really are singing. You could be forgiven for wondering that, given the amplification turns up the backing track and the voices so loud that you can't always tell what's real. But this is a mostly harmless and slightly eccentric blend of opera classics fused with the occasional pop classic. However, recognising the pop tunes would help if you were over a certain age. The most recent of them dates back twenty years. It's currently playing at the Peacock Theatre .  Five performers play out a variety of archetype opera characters. There's the worn-out tenor (Jesús Álvarez), the macho baritone (Enrique Sánchez-Ramos), the eccentric counter-tenor (Michaël Kone), the dreamy soprano (María Rey-Joly) and the wild mezzo-soprano (Mayca Teba). Since my singing days, I haven't recognised these types of performers. However, once, I recall a conductor saying he wanted no mezzo-sopranos singing with the s

Same but indifferent: Laughing Boy @JStheatre

Stephen Unwin's Laughing Boy, adapted for the stage from Sara Ryan's Justice for Laughing Boy, is a powerful and moving story about a mother and a family that keeps asking questions despite the victimisation and harassment from the institution - the NHS - that was supposed to protect her son. It's a moving, celebratory account of a life cut short due to indifference held together by a remarkable performance by Janie Dee as Sara. It's currently playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre

Sara's son, Connor, is a little different to others. He is fascinated by buses and doesn't like things like loud noises. But as he becomes an adult, his seizures and unexpected outbursts mean the family turn to their local NHS for support. Little did they realise they would receive such little care from a service that was institutionally incompetent and covered up thousands of unexplained deaths of people with disabilities, including Connor's. The search for answers about why he died leads to a campaign and the piece's focus. 

Connor's story has appeared in the news over the years. The facts are presented up front that he drowned in a bath in a residential unit. But on stage, it gives a new perspective; the raw emotions of grief, injustice and anger come to the fore. Janie Dee as Sara is central to the story, covering the contradictions, the regrets, the barely concealed rage and grief. It's sometimes an emotional rollercoaster, but it benefits from its frankness. Alfie Friedman sensitively plays Connor, who is onstage throughout, and his presence serves as a reminder of the person at the heart of the story. The rest of the cast plays various characters in the story, from family members and lawyers to creepy NHS executives.

It's also not a story of the recent past but the continuing story of institutional indifference and incompetence that seem to be told often. Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, the focus of the drama, still requires improvement in its service. Sarah Ryan's columns for the Guardian over the years repeat the same message about the indifference the health services have towards people with learning disabilities. It's the same story again and again: indifference.  

Adapted and directed by Stephen Unwin, Laughing Boy is at Jermyn Street Theatre until 25 May and then has a short run at Theatre Royal Bath 4-8 June. 


Photos by Tristram Kenton

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