[author-post-rating] (4/5 Stars)
Nihal Armstrong is the son of Rahila Gupta, who wrote the script for this one woman show Don’t Wake Me. Part poetry, part monologue, the story tells of the life of Nihal Armstrong – the baby who only just survived and who becomes the thing for which his mother fights as she struggles to get the world to accept her disabled child.
The story is a well-worn one – the mother is sure that the child is intelligent if only he could be given the tools to channel his intelligence, but the experts refuse to believe it and are sure that he must be sent to a special school. This fight between parents and ‘experts’, and parents and teachers, to allow children with disabilities to be taught in mainstream schools is seen over and over again in the media, but rarely is it presented so honestly and heart-wrenchingly for the stage as it is here. It helps that this is not just a one-off poem of catharsis from a tortured mother; Rahila Gupta has been a writer for many years, and it shows in the beautifully formed verse which is like poetry to the ears but prose to the mind. It is beautiful to listen to but it is not indulgently poetic: the story is told honestly and openly, and even has many moments of lightness and humour which one would not expect from a story which tells of such a sad situation. But that is part of the beauty – this is not the tale of a miraculous angel born to the perfect mother, it is the honest truth of a normal child struggling to communicate through his abnormal body, and his mother who struggles through it with him as best she can, though never completely successfully.
Jaye Griffiths plays the mother with such perfection that I would not be surprised if many people thought that she really was her. Her connection to Nihal seems palpable as her eyes flicker towards his photo which stands at the edge of the stage, and she keeps her emotions perfectly in balance to make sure that the play does not erupt too quickly – giving away just enough to keep you invested but saving the cascades of heartfelt fury and sadness for just the right moments.
The set is simple and there is minimal extra fluff – it is simply one brilliant actress with a simple but beautiful story to tell, and really that is all you need.
Don’t Wake Me: The Ballad of Nihal Armstrong is playing at Gilded Balloon Teviot at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 25 August. For more information and tickets, so the Edinburgh Fringe website.