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Last Updated: Friday, 1 October, 2004, 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK
Theatres 'face disability action'
By Laura Smith-Spark
BBC News Online

Mat Fraser - photograph by Patrick Barth
Mat Fraser hopes the comedy will help the fight for disabled rights
Actor and Thalidomide campaigner Mat Fraser has warned it may take a "flood of court cases" to make all theatres obey new laws on disabled access.

The 42-year-old's show Thalidomide! A Musical opens at Battersea Arts Centre in London on the day the Disability Discrimination Act comes into force.

Mr Fraser, who wrote both the music and lyrics, is one of two performers on stage for the sell-out production.

He said he hoped the comedy would send a powerful message on disabled rights.

Mr Fraser told BBC News Online he was concerned venues might quibble over interpretation of the new Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) legislation.

Let the carnage begin and hopefully in two years' time we might be able to go to the theatre
Mat Fraser

Under the new law, businesses are required to make "reasonable adjustments" for disabled staff and customers.

"The word 'reasonable' is subjective and it's always going to be up to debate," Mr Fraser said.

"We need a flood of court cases slammed at people who are not providing proper access."

He fears some of the older theatres in London and other cities are "going to have to be sued" before they make the changes needed.

"That's the way it is," he said. "Let the carnage begin and hopefully in two years' time we might be able to go to the theatre."

Corporate greed

Regional and smaller venues tend to have better disabled access, he said.

The decision to write the musical - which is Mr Fraser's first - followed his experience of making the documentary Happy Birthday Thalidomide.

"I learned so much about the drug that it brought me down a bit, just the endless examples of corporate greed," he said.

"I wanted to have some fun with the subject and I had long wanted to write a musical so I thought, why not have a go."

The best way to get a message across if you are angry about an injustice is to write a comedy
Mat Fraser

The show, which "challenges all the cliches of the genre", follows a love story and the long compensation battle for people affected by the drug Thalidomide.

Featuring songs like It's Hard To Hitch Down Life's Highway With No Thumbs, it is not for the faint-hearted and sidesteps political correctness.

Mr Fraser said: "I think it's really important to discuss disability on stage in whatever way.

"There's a huge dearth of writing by disabled authors about their experience, about the social construct which is disability.

"The best way to get a message across if you are angry about an injustice is to write a comedy."

Although it was a coincidence the musical opened on the same day as the DDA came in, Mr Fraser said he would be celebrating the new law after the show.

"Let's use this bill to make the physical barriers to disabled access a thing of the past," he said.

Thalidomide! A Musical, which has sold-out for all three nights of its initial run, is scheduled to go on tour next year.

James Westhead reports on the new legislation

Thalidomide campaign victory
21 Jul 04  |  North Yorkshire
Thalidomide: 40 years on
07 Jun 02  |  UK News


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