I downloaded the five episodes of this omnibus as each one was released on Kindle between the Monday and Friday of National Learning Disability Week back in June 2012. I had no idea what the episodes were all about, but I downloaded them anyway out of a sense of duty; my token support for Learning Disability Week, I suppose. Some time later (well, quite some time later, I’m ashamed to admit), also dutifully, I began to read the first episode, “No Labels on Monday”, not expecting much from what I regarded as a chore. Boy, was I wrong! That sense of duty turned rapidly to one of pleasure, and pretty soon I was devouring episode after episode, looking forward to the “hit” that each would supply.
These accounts of the work of the No Labels Drama Group aren’t just entertaining; they’re truly inspirational. You would need to have a heart of stone if you failed to take immediately to the members of the group. They are fictional characters who are based on real people with real disabilities. So yes, of course, they are frustrating and exhausting to manage. And yes, of course, they need to be coaxed and cajoled and bribed with copious amounts of chocolate biscuits, fairy cakes and sticky buns. But that doesn’t make them any different from so-called normal people. Observe what happens at a typical management team meeting when a plate of cream cakes is placed in the centre of the shiny boardroom table, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
You would also need to have a hide of rhino if you failed to absorb the messages conveyed in the group’s work, to rise to the clarion call, “Labels are for tins, not people!” The messages are clear and unequivocal: don’t apply labels to people who are different; enable them to make informed choices about their lives; and never, ever treat them like children.
Then there are the dramas performed by the group. I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll say simply that every play is both inspired and inspiring, as well as very, very funny. When the performance of the first one, “Piglet!”, opened, I experienced one of those jaw-dropping moments I won’t forget for a while. If by the end of each play you aren’t singing and cheering along with the fictional audience, then you really are devoid of all feeling, my friend.
But what holds all this together, what makes it so much more than the sum of its parts, is the writing. My hat goes off and stays off to Cally Phillips, whose skill at narrating each performance step-by-step is nothing short of electrifying. I was going to say that reading her accounts is like experiencing a maestro conducting the 1812 Overture, but that would be too highfalutin. It’s more like watching a juggler spinning plates – and the number of plates keeps on growing and growing. Or like following Henry Hill’s crescendo-like narration in the closing scenes of “Goodfellas”. Unlike poor Henry, though, Cally Phillips gets high on words, not coke.
So please don’t follow my lead. Don’t let this book hang about on your Kindle. Read it now. Meet the No Labels Drama Group. Learn their messages. And stand by to be mesmerised by their performances. To paraphrase Piglet… sorry, Hamlet… the plays are the thing!
This is a second opinion review you can find another review for A Week With No Labels by Julia Jones here