Disabled characters in TV soaps. Ability awareness in theatres. The Paralympics. All good consciousness-raising tropes for the recognition and support of differently-abled actors, and people in general, right?

Not according to a laugh-provoking but also thought-provoking Still No Idea curated by Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence using plot suggestions generated from vox pop interviews with the public.

Sort of slightly-look-alikey – well, similar haircuts and lipstick – theirs is a sisterly act of marginal difference. They evidently share the same sense of humour, particularly in their sardonic observation of characters they meet, similar vocal delivery, same clear-eyed full-on addressing of an audience. Except Hammond has restricted growth, and intermittent chronic pain means she uses a wheelchair – where Spence stands taller and doesn’t.

If they were a double act, which would be the French and which the Saunders? The ‘rules’ suggest it should be Hammond playing the clown on the grounds that whoever looks less like an average person in any two-up comedy act should be the spunky funny one. Didn’t work for Morecambe and Wise, though, did it? Or The Two Ronnies.

So what are your career choices when you’re a foot shorter than Elaine Paige? Actually, it’s Hammond who has the bigger TV profile – four years on Walford market in EastEnders, and my favourite as the smart-arsed police intelligence officer in Vera.

Vera is a perfect example of what Spence and Hammond reference in this show: that a disabled character can be played by a disabled actor but doesn’t get the elements of character development and plot that able-bodied colleagues do.  Or the lead.

To be fair, apart from Brenda Blethyn and whichever son-substitute sergeant is shadowing her in a given episode, nobody in Vera has much of a backstory – but Hammond’s character had the least: no family, love interest, plotlines, car chases or slamming on of handcuffs with ‘right, pet, you’re nicked’ for ‘Helen’. Did she even get a surname? Is she in the Ann Cleeves source novels, or just inserted by TV executives for box-ticking?

There’s a lot of fun on stage – Hammond’s song ‘Cheeky Face’ and Spence’s ‘montage’ as the heroine of a romantic crime drama are both hilarious, but the takeaway from the evening is that it makes you think.

I tried to see how the balance of racial-blind casting or the increased percentage of gay characters in television and theatre were comparable. But they’re not. They emerged because producers, directors, writers and executives are BAME or gay themselves, and generate work that reflects the demographic: the disabled aren’t similarly represented.

What’s the answer? Warwick Davis for Director General of the BBC?

It’s a start.


until 17 November