Friday, 20 June 2014

A Week With No Labels by Cally Phillips.... various reviewers.

This is a bit of a cheek. I know it. But sometimes one has to do what one can, and this week it’s Learning Disability Week. And this year, thus far, I’ve done nothing about that. So I’m going to step over the line and post  a series of ‘reviews’ of ‘A Week with No Labels’ published  first as episodes during LD week 2012 but now available as ‘omnibus’ ebook and paperback (with additional ‘days.’)

The first two reviews are by AE’ers Julia Jones and Bill Kirton, and of the others, I know Brendan Gisby and the others I have no idea who wrote them (didn’t even know they existed till today when I went to find Julia and Bill’s.) I’m hoping that in the spirit it’s intended all the reviewers will be happy for their reviews to be posted here (I can’t afford to be sued!) and I hope that reading them might encourage people to think for a moment about ‘Learning Disability’ and maybe, just maybe, buy the book! (Cally Phillips)

Julia Jones Reviews:
This is the story of the No Labels drama group. Most of the member s have learning disabilities of one sort of another but the writers gift is to work WITH the disabilities to make plays that are humourous and also political.It's a campaigning book that doesn't seek to deny the difficulties people encounter if, for instance, they have a problem reading, managing money or speaking clearly but pleads for them to be given the help that the want, not the help that other people assume that they need. It's an important distiction, made here with clarity and compassion. I first read this book in its component sections during learning disability week. It was a lovely idea to offer a section a day for five days but I think the 'omnibus edition' does more that its parts. The additional material (a weekend away with the No Labels drama group) adds depth to the central argument. Although this is a work of advocacy it's also an entertaining and humane read. Try it.

Bill Kirton reviews
 This review is from: A Week With No Labels (Kindle Edition)
These are 5 episodes chronicling the work of a fictional drama group (called No Labels) which are based on real work done by the author in collaboration with a beguiling, attractive, varied bunch of people tagged with the label 'learning disability'. It's a great read - funny, entertaining, but also thought-provoking in the best sense of the word. With each wee adventure, it gently challenges your perceptions of people, labels, and the values on which our society SEEMS TO run. I've just finished reading it and the characters are all still vivid for me. I know they'll stay that way for a long time, too.

Groundbreaking!, Reviewed by ‘the Bub.’
This is a very important book. The author introduces us to the background to the book, inspired by the real 'No Labels Drama Group' funded by an advocacy group run by adults with leaning disabilities. The book however is about a fictional 'No Labels' Drama Group inspired by the real 'Boaloian Drama Group' which the author explains is based on the work of Augusto Boal, founder of the Theatre of the Oppressed Movement.
With an introduction to the cast and with the author as the group's facilitator we are taken on a journey of a week of drama in which the group work out and perform various plays usually those dealing with important issues of the day affecting the group and society in general. These are reworked or reinterpretions of well-known plays or stories. But really you need to read it in order to appreciate the sheer hard work and fun that goes into the plays from the costumes to the characters themselves, to the prompts that bring this series of plays to life.
On Monday the group define themselves and decide 'labels are for tins not people'. This is an important recurrent theme throughout the week. Of course, we soon understand that it is a micro week and one Monday is an amalgamation of many Mondays and so on throughout the week. The No Labels Group decide they want to put on a 'real play' with 'real characters' at a 'real theatre' with a 'real audience'. Something like Shakespeare. No pressure there then for their facilitator! But she and the group rise to the occasion. What follows is a hilarious adaptation of Hamlet (I won't elaborate any further as I don't wish to spoil it). That is Tuesday taken care of. Wednesday is Politics and our group performs to the Scottish Parliament for Disability. They have a message 'politics is rubbish'. Yes, the No Labels team put on a play with a message about reducing, re-using and recycling. The theme of Thursday is about choices - real and informed choices - and again takes the form of a new angle on an old story: The Emperor's New Clothes. Friday is recycling day in the form of a musical: recycling songs in the group's own adapted version of Aiken Drum.
Whereas the weekdays, Monday to Friday, are full of scheduled activities for the No Labels Group their facilitator (the author) is shocked to discover (as we are as readers) that 'for most of the group a care package doesn't include activities on the weekend'. She wants to redress this and one weekend the No Labels Group are invited to put on a play about healthy eating at a hotel. I think this has to be my favourite part of the book as we share in the freedom, spontaneity and novelty of people, most of whom have never been away before. It is like a holiday to them and free of their usual constraints, amazing things happen to all concerned, not least to our facilitator, and new and deeper friendships are forged.
The book is written in a chatty, colloquial style, directed at you as reader. It is a style you either get on with or you don't. Fortunately, I do. I have in fact written a book myself (under a pseudonym) in a very similar style because that book, as this, lent itself to it. Having written in such a style I'm also aware of the diverse reactions it can produce. Mostly it is engaging, immediate and humorous. Wearing my editorial hat for a moment, there were quite a few punctuation issues. I encountered many unclosed quotes and brackets which were a bit distracting but maybe this is just in the print version and I'm sure the author will pick them up on the next printing.
That aside, I learned a lot from this book. It was enlightening, entertaining, fun and carried an important message. This is what you are left with and what you will take away. I have to take my hat off (editorial one and all!) to the author and the No Labels Group. They clearly have bags of imagination, energy and ideas and I'm already missing them.

Who you gonna call? NO LABELS, reviewed by F.Z.Flynn 
I've just spent a week with A Week with No labels. A week in the company of the No Labels theatre group and its inspirational cast as they work their way through a Biblical week of off-beat, touching , and often hilarious theatrical productions never before seen.

I must say right off that this is a good book. Good in both senses of the word. First, as in the sense of entertaining, funny, well-written. But also in the deeper philosophical sense of the word. Of giving to the other. Of the sharing of experiences. Of finding yourself, of finding God in the world. I think this is the heart of the book, the heart of the matter, the heart of all matters. It's making the revolution the only way one can. Day by day, hour by hour, in the midst of the world. I also feel that for Kate, the narrator and guide throughout the week, there is something of Hamlet in the story. To be or not to be. The question of questions. To find yourself in life. To take possession of yourself through using your talents to enrich the lives of others. And in this, this book, and by extension the whole project on which the book is based, obviously succeeds.

There is something you should know before we go any further, though I have not nor do I plan to comment on this aspect. The author says in the introduction:

"NO LABELS is a fictional drama group. I have worked for ten years with a "real" drama group run "for and by" adults labeled with learning disabilities and many of the experiences fictionalized here happened to us. Many didn't. But in this story I am a fictional character too! If there is any resemblance to real people in these fictional characters I'd say it's only the good bits which are "real". I've made up the bad bits!"

What I most enjoyed in the book was the comedy. And the underlying chaos. The brilliant anarchy. The narrative voice makes you feel like a privileged member of the audience. You laugh, feel sad, want to join in the silly songs, want to spend a weekend with the cast wolfing into anything edible on offer. I loved the Murpyesque mock philosophical debate about fairy cakes and cupcakes. I wanted to join in. Is a cupcake posher than a fairy cake? What the hell is a muffin, then? Why in my adopted language, Spanish, do we call them Magdalenas? (see, I'm joining in already).I heard that they became popular in Spain after Proust wrote about recalling his childhood after smelling a Magdalena soaked in tea. Or was it a cupcake. Or a fairy cake? That's how good this book is, that's the power of No Labels, they lead you from hoovering up tea and cakes (they're good at that, loved that line) to Marcel Proust. Who you gonna call? Yeah, that's right, NO LABELS.
I also really loved the adaptation of Hamlet, Piglet. Sorry, Piglet! This, in my opinion, is the high point of the book and the part where the writer's skill in using her voice to guide the reader through the action, always seeming to be tottering on the edge of some anarchic catastrophe, is at its best. This is another aspect of the book that jumps out at you. The visual power of the narrative. You can see, see, see everything from your privileged seat in the stalls, or in the Gods if you're more of a cupcaker than a fairy caker. I would have loved to see the actual play. Even now, writing this, I'm laughing at the whole mad idea. "Murder most foul", "Somone's had their bacon", "Something's rotten in the state of Denmark" . Horatio Pig, Polony Pig, Ophelia Pig, Queenie Pig (!) and, the best of all, Ghosty Pig.

Piglet is just one of the days and there are six other equally uproariously funny days to choose from. Download this great little book. I can guarantee you won't be disappointed. In fact I'm sure it will leave you wanting more. A Week with No Labels is not only a good read; it's also a sort of antidote to the desensitized little Britainesque sense of humour that seems to have swept down and taken over the UK in the last few years. This is a different read, a breath of fresh air (except during Piglet!) and the only label involved is that of a right good read.

Reviewed by Brendan Gisby.

I downloaded the five episodes of this omnibus as each one was released on Kindle between the Monday and Friday of National Learning Disability Week back in June 2012. I had no idea what the episodes were all about, but I downloaded them anyway out of a sense of duty; my token support for Learning Disability Week, I suppose. Some time later (well, quite some time later, I'm ashamed to admit), also dutifully, I began to read the first episode, "No Labels on Monday", not expecting much from what I regarded as a chore. Boy, was I wrong! That sense of duty turned rapidly to one of pleasure, and pretty soon I was devouring episode after episode, looking forward to the "hit" that each would supply.

These accounts of the work of the No Labels Drama Group aren't just entertaining; they're truly inspirational. You would need to have a heart of stone if you failed to take immediately to the members of the group. They are fictional characters who are based on real people with real disabilities. So yes, of course, they are frustrating and exhausting to manage. And yes, of course, they need to be coaxed and cajoled and bribed with copious amounts of chocolate biscuits, fairy cakes and sticky buns. But that doesn't make them any different from so-called normal people. Observe what happens at a typical management team meeting when a plate of cream cakes is placed in the centre of the shiny boardroom table, and you'll know exactly what I mean.

You would also need to have a hide of rhino if you failed to absorb the messages conveyed in the group's work, to rise to the clarion call, "Labels are for tins, not people!" The messages are clear and unequivocal: don't apply labels to people who are different; enable them to make informed choices about their lives; and never, ever treat them like children.

Then there are the dramas performed by the group. I don't want to give too much away, so I'll say simply that every play is both inspired and inspiring, as well as very, very funny. When the performance of the first one, "Piglet!", opened, I experienced one of those jaw-dropping moments I won't forget for a while. If by the end of each play you aren't singing and cheering along with the fictional audience, then you really are devoid of all feeling, my friend.

But what holds all this together, what makes it so much more than the sum of its parts, is the writing. My hat goes off and stays off to Cally Phillips, whose skill at narrating each performance step-by-step is nothing short of electrifying. I was going to say that reading her accounts is like experiencing a maestro conducting the 1812 Overture, but that would be too highfalutin. It's more like watching a juggler spinning plates - and the number of plates keeps on growing and growing. Or like following Henry Hill's crescendo-like narration in the closing scenes of "Goodfellas". Unlike poor Henry, though, Cally Phillips gets high on words, not coke.

So please don't follow my lead. Don't let this book hang about on your Kindle. Read it now. Meet the No Labels Drama Group. Learn their messages. And stand by to be mesmerised by their performances. To paraphrase Piglet... sorry, Hamlet... the plays are the thing!

You can buy A Week With No Labels as ebook or paperback from Amazon

£6.99 for the paperback and £2.99 Kindle /