ZARA is a collaboration of Mind the Gap, Walk the Plank, Emergency Exit Arts, wonderful communities and a baby bigger than a double decker bus. Boldly exploring the taboo surrounding parents and parents-to-be with learning difficulties, the production super-sizes stigma and shows what can be achieved through hope, love and a community pulling together.
We follow Zara (JoAnne Haines), a soon-to-be-mum with a learning disability, fight to keep her newborn baby girl after the authorities rule that she is unfit to provide a safe and loving home for the child. The battle is staged in the form of a news bulletin on the night of the baby’s birth, reported by the engaging, energetic and empathetic presenter Sam Hill. Protestors have gathered, in the form of the 100-member strong community company, both supporting and opposing Zara’s right to be a mother. However, when she refuses to hand over her baby chaos ensues with showers of streamer baby poop, dancing cleaners in hazmat suits, soldiers in tanks and a whirlwind of sirens.
Haines gives an empathetic and compelling performance as Zara supported by the excellent community company who show what can be achieved within a tight network of love and support. This is physicalised as they solidify their commitment to helping Zara by climbing up the 22ft baby to place a pacifier in its mouth. However, this also shows what fantastic large-scale productions can be produced when communities, artists and designers come together as the performance fills Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park in south London with energy, commitment and music.
The baby itself is a beauty to behold, literally showing the enormity of the barriers faced by parents who suffer from learning difficulties. A point which was tenderly brought home by testimony from other parents who have experienced a similar lack of expectation and unwanted intervention.
However, while the production challenges the low standards expected of parents with learning difficulties sensitively, it can at times lack subtlety. For example, within the Don’t Drop the Baby comedy TV ad that breaks up the news report structure, reinforcing its TV show style. Even though this is a tad on the nose, this framework translates excellently into the productions new digital form, though you do miss the full effect of the 3D projection mapping and atmosphere of support, protest and inclusivity the company create in the space.
ZARA is a bold, bright and big piece that blows up hidden taboo issues into something gigantic, that cannot be ignored. What the production lacks in subtlety it makes up for in heart; leaving you with a sense of community, support and love, even within the confines of your living room.
ZARA is playing online at www.youtube.com/mtgstudios until the 11th May 2020 . For more information, see http://www.mind-the-gap.org.uk/productions/zara/