Tag Archives: Rob Drummond

“Don’t. Make. Tea” at the Soho Theatre

As a disability-led theatre company, Birds of Paradise has a kind of licence to make jokes about the topic of its new play. The humour in Rob Drummond’s piece about a benefits claim that goes wrong is dark, outrageous and very funny. But it’s the use made of the jokes that really impresses. Don’t. Make. Tea. is strong satire that raises important questions intelligently.

The first smart move is to set the play in the future, with an AI called Able and live sign language on a giant TV. Of course, it all makes the production accessible at the same time. But Drummond pretends to imagine a future utopia (bet you didn’t see that coming) in ‘Accessible Britain’. The authorities have listened and changed the welfare state for the better.

Up for assessment is Chris, who suffers from a degenerative condition. Her interrogator is beardy social worker Ralph. The questions could be more frustrating than funny, but director Robert Softley Gale keeps the tone light with strict pacing. The performers, Gillian Dean and Neil John Gibson respectively, are great. Gibson stays the right side of parody, while Dean makes sure her character wins admiration. The bureaucracy is familiar, the spin put on the new system believable. Sighing and groaning as we go along, tension mounts and… well, the poster does say benefit assessments can be a killer.

Making Chris violent is just one of many good twists. It turns out she was a detective! And even though we’ve been told her condition can include hallucinations, it’s still a surprise when she’s joined by the technology. Richard Conlon and Emery Hunter appear and ham it up for all they’re worth – two extremely enjoyable performances – also taking us closer to Chris and her desperation. Conlon delivers his deadpan lines perfectly, reminding Chris that she’s the hero, while Hunter signing is brilliantly funny.

A final twist is less successful. Ralph’s fiancée comes to check on him and the debate that follow is blunt and a little rushed. That said, Nicola Chegwin, who takes this role, is a good stage drunk (always tricky) and the questions raised are thought-provoking. It’s just that so much has already been covered in a more entertaining way. One of the tricks in the assessment that trips up Chris is showing a sense of humour – people with a disability aren’t allowed one! The success of the comedy in Don’t. Make. Tea means nobody on stage would pass that test. Yet another delicious irony in this smart, laugh-out-loud show.

Until 6 April 2024


Photo by Andy Catlin