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Reproduced with the kind permission of Disability Arts Online

Sophie Partridge caught the anarchic chaos that was Katherine Araniello’s Unlimited live art performance at the Southbank Centre.

Katherine Araniello hosts The Dinner Party as part of Unlimited 2014

Having interviewed Katherine a couple of months ago about her forthcoming performance, I was more than a little excited when Opening night of Unlimited 2014 finally arrived.

It’s still, apparently, impossible to have a Disability Arts event without access issues – all that malarkey is a performance in itself.  I’m glad to say it was All for One amongst the Wheelies tho, as en-masse, we stormed the Purcell Room and took spaces! We had, after all, come to see our Queen of Crips Lady K! We don’t come much more bendy than Araniello…

At the touch-tour to the Dinner Party Revisited for VIPs, I was described the Chintzy Set with its red floral carpet, dinner service laid out on the long table and fabrics draped over the screens, to represent the six virtual guests. I assume had I a been a genuine `Blindy’, the on-stage characters would have had their costumes described, as well. At one end of the table was a dresser laid out with plates of food, from which the waiter would serve…

The hour had come and the host arrived on stage! Katherine, accompanied by three in their official roles as Sign Language Interpreter, Waiter and PA. Proceedings began at the serving dresser, with Katherine turning to reveal Pippa the not-at-all-virtual Chihauha contentedly placed on the arm of her `chair!

Despite all chaos, Pippa remained supremely calm. We were introduced to the `guests’ (Katherine in many guises, this first a warbling opera singer!) who were both activated and de-activated by sensors placed n the carpet. Each character typified some aspect of stereotypical views of disability, from the failed Paralympian who wanted to go to Dignitass, through to Charity Ball and Petal Pity. However the Big D word was never overtly mentioned from what I recall. At Katherine’s convenience, we tolerated their diatribes for a time and then moved on, relatively un-scathed…

With roots in vintage film Dinner For One, this Dinner Party served up hints of past comedy geniuses with touches of Pete & Doug style interplay between Katherine & `the PA’! Stereotypical humour was used to seemingly disempower, such as the glass of champagne being drank by the PA before Katherine could turn her `chair quick enough to catch her at it. Yet the host had the `last laugh’ observing tho not having actually witnessed the joke, “Well that wasn’t really very amusing – was it?”!

Elements of slapstick played throughout, with the waiter drinking the glasses of champagne she pours for the guests – having supped it myself, there was nothing virtual about that champagne – falling over and then Katherine not being able to stop her chair rolling off the stage. That marked a time where even though you know what you’re watching isn’t real, it feels very uncomfortable. And everything culminated in red wobbly jelly…

For me the `politics’ of the piece revolved around roles and constant negotiation of who has control and of whom. Sometimes the sensors worked for Katherine to activate the guests, by her `chair wheeling over them and sometimes, they didn’t. Jeni Draper as `Terp was told very firmly to “get back in her box” whilst the roles of PA & Waiter became blurred and all three especially in the black-out.

Easy to forget that another live performance of the piece, complete with real Waiting Staff and virtual guests, was happening simultaneously at Arts Admin and yet fascinating during the moments when they were `beamed’ in.   Somehow the piece seemed more scripted than I expected and as a Theatrerey Gal(!), wanted more context as to who the host of this party, was and why that party, was being hosted then and there, exactly; also how the guests, `staff’ etc. had come to be invited.

The technology I felt, enabled and augmented Katherine’s performance as a disabled artist amidst the cocophony of sound from the inane `conversation’ of the virtual guests. And inquisitions such as “Were you born like that” asked incessantly, all your life, without invitation, really ARE inane.  Such questions were spouted from the last guests, along-side manic laughter and I wondered if are we as disabled performers ever really `escape’ those questions from our audiences, whether posed so directly, or left un-voiced.

I don’t know that but I do, that Katherine powered her way to a true path through jelly, spilt champagne and un-ruly staff to create an ambitious, empowering show last night.. and to top it all it was BLOODY FUNNY!

Disability Arts Online