BY Daniel Harkins | June 29 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Father and daughter steal the show at inclusive theatre group

DANIEL HARKINS finds that Down’s syndrome is no barrier to treading the boards for one young star

Professor Pain and Mrs Panic may have menacing names, and their dastardly attempts to shut down the school’s rock ‘n’ roll course was certainly villainous, but I’m assured they are lovely people away from work.

Out of their costumes, the dastardly duo become Brian and Rachel Murray, a father and daughter who have found in their parish performance group a way to break down barriers between those with disabilities and those without.

In 2016, Rachel, who has Down’s syndrome, came to a Mass at St Margaret’s RC Church, Davidson’s Mains, Edinburgh, and volunteered to join the performance group. Her father, who came along for support, soon found himself volunteering—or being volunteered, to be precise—to join his daughter in strutting the stage.

Roughcast Productions was formed in 2011 in the parish, and holds two performances a year: a summer show which runs in May, and a three-night run at Christmas. The theatre group runs on a shoestring budget, and any profits are donated to the parish. Scripts are written by the parishioners, and with members including children as young as nine and pensioners as old as 85, there is somebody for every part.

This inclusive nature of the group is what attracted 18-year-old Rachel. Her mother, Lynn Murray, said she was so proud of how the group had embraced her daughter.

“She’s not just a token part: they write specific roles for her,” she said. “Some people focus on the things Rachel can’t do, but they focus on the things she can.”

Rachel enjoys signing, and though she can often get the words muddled up, her fellow actors—her dad Brian included—help her through the performance.

“Your life takes a different turn when you have a child with Down’s syndrome,” Mrs Murray said. “You find out talent you didn’t have, because you are forced down a different road. It’s amazing what you end up doing.”

While there are groups and resources for people with Down’s syndrome in Scotland, Mrs Murray highlighted the importance of the learning disabled being involved in mainstream activities—and the value of Roughcast in proving those opportunities.

“I’d encourage people with children with Down’s syndrome to get involved because it’s a mainstream activity,” she said about the theatre group. “Too often people think Rachel should be doing things with people like her, but I think we can’t learn about acceptance if we separate people.

“That’s what a group should be about—supporting each other to be best that they can be. It says a lot about a group that they can support people with a disability.”

“Sometimes parents with children with Down’s syndrome give up on the mainstream,” she added. “So it’s ­important we reach out to them and that’s something we can do as parishes—think about how we can be more inclusive of people with Down’s syndrome.”

Dawn O’Donnell has written a number of plays for the theatre group. She taught Rachel in nursery, and she said the teenager has brought a lot to their performances.

“Rachel immediately brought a great amount of enthusiasm and passion to our shows, and her dad has become very involved,” she said. “Rachel and Brian have now done two summer shows and two Christmas shows, and I can’t imagine not having them in the company. Everyone has something to bring, whatever age or ability. We are all different, and we are very supportive of each other and help each other­ throughout the whole preparation for show nights.”

Roughcast is very much a family affair, and Mrs O’Donnell has drafted in her husband as musical director and her three daughters as actresses and support staff. Her daughter Josie first became involved when she was 11, and now 22, she has just written and directed the group’s summer show.

“Two of the younger cast were just babies when Roughcast was founded, and we now have a waiting list of ­siblings who want to join!” Mrs O’Donnell said. “Our rehearsals bring people together.

“For some of us, this is a very important part of our overall wellbeing. We have a wonderful tea lady Mary, who makes us tea and feeds us. We are all friends, and we know what is going on in each other’s lives.

“We challenge ourselves, and encourage each other to be brave and try new things. We laugh at each other loudly, and comfort each other when things are hard.

“We lost a valued member of our cast three years ago, and we all mourned for her, and we celebrated her life.

“We have shared births, deaths, birthdays, graduations, a recent engagement and any other reason to celebrate. We have grown in confidence together and although there will be no Olivier awards, we are very, very proud of who we are and of what we do.”


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