Sheltered is a one-woman show written and performed by Kathryn Hall. It is an autobiographical account of her experience of cerebral palsy and finding adulthood in difficult circumstances. From childhood bullies, to being taken away by police and put into homeless shelters, to tedious encounters with medical professionals, to more homeless shelters. It is an incredible, important story which really deserves a big audience. While being revelatory and moving, the show is also sprinkled with moments of comedy gold.
The brilliance of this piece comes in Hall’s ability to make light of her experiences with her trademark bubbliness. Even when addressing the systemic failures of disability support, these issues were handled with an effective satirical bite. The best instance of this was her re-enactment of interactions with therapists. Interspersed throughout the show, Hall would sit down with the same puppet and humorously repeat the tedious therapist-patient interaction which would always end with her being sent off to see the next specialist. It was a brilliant example of how comedy can be used to relay a powerful message and lived experience.
In general though, the use of puppets were not used as effectively throughout as they were in the therapist skit. They worked so well in this instance because they served to highlight a sense of human alienation in care services as well as Hall’s experience of condescension from medical professionals. In other instances, the use of the puppets felt a bit haphazard and I was sometimes confused at which character she was imitating.
On this, the show suffered from having too much packed into an hour. For instance, Hall intercedes past stories with anecdotes and even slideshow presentations giving insight into her daily experience of disability. These moments, while insightful and engaging, often felt rushed over. With a few selective edits, particular moments which currently feel incomplete could be more fleshed out and, as a result, would pack more of a punch.
That being said, credit is due to the show’s superb lighting and sound, which were especially effective when they were used to show inexpressible feelings. An example of this was when Hall went through her daily Fringe routine. 2pm was ‘FREAK OUT’. At this, the lights became erratic and the speakers blared with music, mimicking Hall’s anxieties. Then, when she claimed that 2.30pm was ‘CALM DOWN’, the projection behind Hall showed a mountain scenery and zen music played out. Here, the production values were instrumental in heightening the comedy of this moment.
Other than Sheltered being an excellent show in itself, this is a must-see for theatre makers, producers and the like who could learn a lot about how they can make theatre more accessible to encourage more artists with disabilities to put on shows. At the beginning of the piece, we were introduced to “Andi the Prompter”, Hall’s director, who sat offstage prompting Hall on her lines. Twice during the show Andi would shout from offstage, “Disability Rest Break”. These breaks were playfully handled by Hall who re-energised whilst bopping to a tune and at one point even had a small, amusing debrief onstage with her director about how the show was going.
The ending of the show is extremely powerful. Holding on tightly to her precious quilt, Hall reflects on the “storm of [her] life” and her constant need to find shelter from it. The lasting message is one of hope. How incredible that she delivers it in her own one-woman show at the Fringe. Powerful, moving and entertaining – Sheltered is a truly unique piece of theatre which will bring tears to your eye in one moment and make you laugh in another.
Recommended Drink: Sheltered is like a homemade lemonade – playful, punchy and memorable.
Catch Sheltered on 1st, 2nd, 4th March. Tickets are available through the Adelaide Fringe Box Office.