Mat Fraser, an actor affected by thalidomide, in ‘Audition’, one of the episodes of ‘CripTales’
Mat Fraser, an actor affected by thalidomide, in ‘Audition’, one of the episodes of ‘CripTales’ © Richard Ansett/BBC

An actor consults a casting sheet: “‘Father, 50. Could be disabled.’ Never seen that, never.” He holds up his hands: “These babies over the last 25 years have caused commotions!” Mat Fraser’s “Audition” feels highly autobiographical, recalling encounters with casting directors that range from the funny to the tragic. An intense gaze in extreme close-up pulls us in. “I’ve gotta get a grip — harder with no thumbs, but not impossible.” An actor affected by thalidomide has additional strains on top of normal interview nerves. To gesticulate, or not? “Anything that increases the tension in the room” is bad. He used to give Edmund’s speech in King Lear until “it all got a bit self-reffy”. Arriving to find “all six of us UK male disabled actors” in the line-up is not uncommon, nor is being asked to act having cerebral palsy. Still, “you don’t want to get a reputation for being disabled and difficult”. 

Each of the six short monologues in this provocatively titled series, shown two per night, is billed as being written, performed and directed by people with disabilities. Also self-penned is Jackie Hagan’s irreverent “Paper Knickers” (Thursday), in which a young woman lies in hospital awaiting the amputation of her right leg. She’s panicking, but it’s too late to change her mind now: “You can’t go back when you’ve got paper knickers on.” With multicoloured hair and a forthright Liverpool accent, she repudiates pity (“I don’t want the aah factor”) and rips up her friends’ cards: “I’m not going to ‘get well’.” How can you project desirability when you’re largely made up of “lager, Angel Delight and repressed class rage”, not to mention having only one leg? The final visual joke is a stunner. 

The monologues are not all of this calibre, though all are thought-provoking and touching. “Thunderbox”, set in a pristine-looking festival toilet in 1968, and themed around the legalisation of abortion, lacks the wit and immediacy of other offerings, but delivers an hefty emotional pay-off. “The Real Deal” by Tom Wentworth (Monday), is a wickedly amusing tale of a vengeful woman (Liz Carr) who spies on her able-bodied, benefits-chasing neighbour: “I know a faker when I see one.” However, when she meets the man she calls “White Vest” in person, the result is something neither of them expected. 

Matilda Ibini’s neatly turned “The Shed” (Thursday) also sees a protagonist move through subtle transmutations. Neatly primped, ensconced in her exquisite kitchen, a wheelchair-bound children’s author (Carly Houston) talks with pride about her round-the-clock carers, led by devoted PA Ellie. However, a newcomer to the set-up turns satisfaction into suspicion, and finally to alarm. It all goes to show, a static performance can still be profoundly moving. 

★★★★☆

On BBC4 from November 2 at 10pm

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