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'Theatre needs new faces, new perspectives and new narratives'

Writer of a new play Stephanie Martin explains why she's hoping to challenge the visibility of disability in theatre

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Imogen Roberts (playing Joy) and Rachel Bright (playing Mary)
© Oliver Marsden Smith

I've been thinking a lot recently about what it would be like if every time you walked down the street or walked into a pub, or a theatre, or onto the bus or the tube, people looked at you as if there was something wrong with you, as if you didn't belong, as if the space or the world around you wasn't for you. I've written a play called Joy to challenge the lack of visibility and representation for those individuals whom society likes to label and marginalize as 'disabled'.

Here at Joy the play HQ we're all a bit bored of words like 'disabled'. In fact, our leading lady, Imogen Roberts, who is playing the eponymous character, prefers the word 'unique'. Imogen and I met six months ago. We almost immediately realised we wanted to tell the same story and we've been collaborating ever since. In a world that tells her to stay in the margins, Imogen's following her dreams, with a quiet confidence and determination. Imogen's too busy living her life as an actor and writer to complain or to worry about what labels people put on her. Along with Rachel Bright, who is playing Joy's sister, Mary, we've talked a lot about the lack of diversity and representation on our stages.

Celebrating and promoting visibility for those identified as having learning disabilities impacts positively on society

Stephanie Martin
© Nick James

Why do we often seem to tell the same stories, about the same people, written by the same people, over and over again? It feels like there have been getting on for twenty versions of Hamlet over the last 12 months. Living in as diverse a city and country as we do, why is our culture so often so narrow, so uniform, so elitist? It's time for some new faces, new narratives and new perspectives in the mainstream. As our collaborator Stephen Unwin puts it, we're making 'new stories for a new world'. It's my firm belief that celebrating and promoting visibility for those identified as having learning disabilities impacts positively on society as a whole. It's about celebrating difference and the many different ways of being successful and valuable.

I'll leave the last word to Imogen.

' Joy for me is about sisterhood and having something to say, to get your voice heard and stand up for what you believe in. It's amazing to be part of something. I want to share my life story through Joy's eyes. We love life to the full. I am in the same boat as Joy, my family want to keep me safe. When I was young I did drama in school at drama club. Come and see Joy. It has lots of adult humour and will leave you feeling emotional. It's going be magical.'

by Stephanie Martin

Joy runs at Theatre Royal Stratford East from 24 October to 4 November.