Reviews from the Edinburgh Fringe

Lesley Warner reviews shows from the Edinburgh Fringe featuring people with learning disabilities

Lesley Warner reviews what's on at Edinburgh Fringe.


There were not many dance shows on offer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and I think Dancer is the only one performed by someone with a learning disability. We are introduced to Ian Johnston by his dancing partner Gary Gardiner, as they explore their passion for dance.

Dancer show
Ian Johnston performs in Dancer. Photo: Sid Scott

Ian has been diagnosed with global delay syndrome, dyspraxia, motion perception awareness deficit and non-defined learning disabilities. Gary points out these conditions would usually preclude someone from dancing, but Ian doesn’t let the labels get in the way of doing what he loves.

Performing to a high-energy disco song, they move rhythmically with the driving beat, Ian clearly enjoying the freedom to express himself in non-verbal ways. They move on to what starts as a waltz, and becomes something intimate – a dance in which each man seems to be holding the other up, taking his weight and stopping him from falling in the ultimate expression of support.

The dances are interspersed with Gary telling us more about Ian, and we also learn that Gary is classically trained. The rapport between the two men is obvious, and Ian’s sense of humour shines through their banter.

The grand finale sees the audience joining them on the dance floor, bopping to Ian’s current favourite track ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams in celebration of us all ‘standing on our own two feet’. It is a happy show with a real feel-good factor.

Dancer was devised by Ian, Gary and the late Adrian Howells.

Downs with Love

Downs with Love explores what happens when a young woman with Down’s Syndrome falls for a pub singer.

Abigail Brydon as Beth shows us her routines of daily living, attending college and working in a charity shop, with input from her new support worker, Tracy, played by Katie Milne. Beth is sparky, self-confident, loves horror movies and has a great sense of humour. When Tracy asks where she wants to go shopping she replies 'Manhattan!'; asked again she says 'Matalan!'

The two women visit the pub where Mark, played by David Mairs, sings, but although the three get on well as friends, it is Tracy and Mark who get together romantically and Beth who is ultimately left out.

Heartbroken by Mark and angry at Tracy’s betrayal, Beth wonders why it should make a difference in relationships that she has Down’s, while Mark reflects that although we say we don’t judge people, we do so all the time.

Abigail Brydon gives an assured and moving performance as Beth, ending with a heartfelt speech asking others to judge her not by her disability but to love her for who she is.

The production is by Suzanne Lofthus and devised with the company as part of the Inspire Project set up by Cutting Edge Theatre in Edinburgh, which aims to help young people with special needs to discover their talents.

Visit www.cuttingedgetheatre.co.uk to see examples of their work.

Guerilla Aspies

In the high-octane show Guerilla Aspies, based on his book of the same name, Paul Wady gives us a frenetic PowerPoint presentation about what it means to be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and how ‘Aspies’ differ from people regarded as ‘neurotypical’.

We are encouraged to embrace neurodiversity, and several well-known people are outed as Aspies.

Wady has produced social story pictograms for People First, an organisation run by and for people with learning difficulties, so it is fitting that he has created one for us explaining how to leave his enchanting show, including the instruction to clap, which we do willingly.

About the author

Lesley Warner is a freelance writer


This article is for subscribers only