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World premiere of Perfect Show for Rachel by award-winning theatre company Zoo Co

Rachel, a learning disabled artist, sits on a throne wearing a gold crown. There is a pink background behind her.

The Barbican presents the world premiere of Perfect Show for Rachel by Zoo Co in The Pit this November. In this experimental show Rachel, a learning disabled artist, has the power to lead the creation of her ‘perfect show’. Zoo Co are joint winners of The Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award with HighRise Entertainment

Rachel is a theatre-loving, enigmatic 31-year-old who loves Kylie Minogue, heckling from the front row and seeing people falling over. She is a learning disabled care-home resident, and sister to Flo, Zoo Co’s Artistic Director.

Sitting on-stage on a throne with her custom-built tech desk, she takes charge as the director of every unique performance in real-time. A touch of a button can trigger music, lighting, theatrical scenes or choreography, brought to life instantly by a company of performers. Perfect Show for Rachel was developed with Rachel, to create a show on her own terms. It explores who defines artistic taste, and questions who that currently excludes.

All performances of Perfect Show for Rachel include creative captioning, live captioning and an integrated BSL performer in the cast, meaning it will be accessible for deaf and Hard of Hearing audiences. Additionally, all performances are Relaxed Performances. You can find out more about how the production is relaxed here.

Perfect Show for Rachel is supported by acclaimed theatre company Improbable, who are also collaborating with the Royal Shakespeare Company on My Neighbour Totoro, currently playing in the Barbican Theatre.

The cast is: Folarin Akinmade, Mark Aspinall, Becky Barry, Stephen Collins, Sara Dawood, Nick Gilbert, Flo O'Mahony, Wendy O'Mahony, Ethan Pascal-Peters, Fleur Rooth, and Lee Simpson.

Flo O’Mahony, Artistic Director of Zoo Co, said
“Perfect Show For Rachel, for better or worse, sees me putting 75% of my nuclear family on stage, which is something I wouldn’t necessarily advise anyone to do, even if I thought they were a bit of a dick. I can’t claim any type of ‘professional distance’ from this process, so I won’t try to treat this show as if it is anything other than something coming straight from my chest, as I prepare to take off my director's hat, and step onstage to be led by Rachel. What I can say is that this show will see Zoo Co developing totally new practices in terms of empowering a learning disabled creative leader. Perfect Show for Rachel will be boisterous, joyous, celebratory and bizarre. I can't wait to create Rachel's specific brand of creative chaos on stage, in a show which will be different every night. In the aftermath of a pandemic which continues to see disabled people who live in care homes isolated from society, friends, family and their favourite activities, this show feels especially urgent and healing"

Lee Simpson, Improbable Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director and Facilitator and Performer on Perfect Show for Rachel said:
"One of the greatest gifts of theatre is the chance to inhabit worlds other than our own. Perfect Show for Rachel presents that gift in such a pure and unfettered way to both audience and performers that it is simultaneously challenging, thrilling and ultimately liberating. I’ve performed improv in pretty much every context there is but this is another kind of on stage improvisation altogether, one that asks me to relinquish any attachment to my skill, experience and so called knowledge, put my money where my improv mouth is and say “yes” to being wholeheartedly, for a short time, in Rachel’s world."

Zoo Co are joint winners of this year’s Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award along with HighRise Entertainment whose production The UK Drill Project is presented in The Pit (Thu 3 – Sat 12 Nov 2022). This is an exciting opportunity for the Barbican to collaborate with, and learn from companies, who have inclusivity and accessibility at the heart of their work. With the full and generous support of the Trust, each company has been awarded the full prize money to realise their proposal, which they’ve been developing over the past couple of years. In collaboration with the Barbican, HighRise Entertainment and Zoo Co will deliver artist workshops for Barbican Theatre Open Lab alumni and other early and mid-career artists this autumn.

Rachel O’Mahony is learning disabled and lives in a residential care home in Surrey, where she grew up. Perfect Show For Rachel is Rachel's professional debut. Previously, she has enjoyed being part of her college productions, with roles including starring as (a very nonchalant) Sneezy in Snow White. She is an avid theatre-goer and a very committed heckler, and can be found shouting at the actors from the front row, often getting more laughs than the jokes in the script. Rachel's most iconic heckle was during a visit to see the Lion King on the West End, where she chose the quietest moment in the whole play to shout a very sarcastic 'ROAR' towards the bewildered child actor on stage. Rachel was the reason Zoo Co started doing Relaxed Performances as standard.

Zoo Co is a multi award-winning Croydon-based charity creating high quality, accessible theatre and creative engagement activities across the UK. They believe theatre is better when everyone is invited. Since 2013, they have toured seven shows to over 70 venues, engaged 2,500+ people, and recently, innovated a digital offer for 70 local young people in Croydon, supporting them during lockdown through 60 digital creative wellbeing sessions, introducing them to artists from TV, film & theatre. They champion access, working with deaf and disabled artists as leaders. Since 2018 all of their work has been accessible for deaf audiences, using Creative Captioning, Visual Vernacular and integrated British Sign Language, led by deaf artists. All of their performances are Relaxed as standard. They take an integrated view towards inclusion, rather than treating accessibility as an ‘add on’ at the end of a creative process. Their work includes Bossy (Greenwich Theatre, Pleasance, UK Tour), Sirens (Fairfield Halls), and The Girl Who Fell In Love With the Moon (SIPFest Jakarta, Indonesia).

Improbable occupies a vital space in the landscape of UK theatre. At the heart of their artistic practice is improvisation. Over the past 25 years, they’ve staged epic outdoor spectacles like Sticky (which was seen by over 250,000 people); theatrical classics like The Tempest at Northern Stage and the Oxford Playhouse; intimate puppetry like Animo in studios across the country; fully improvised shows like Lifegame which ran at the National Theatre and toured internationally; adaptations like Theatre of Blood at the National Theatre; operatic triumphs like Satyagraha and Akhnaten at the English National Opera in London and the Metropolitan Opera in New York; and female-led impro project Permission Improbable. Other productions coming up in 2022 alongside Perfect Show for Rachel: My Neighbour Totoro (RSC, Barbican, Nippon TV), An Improbable Musical (with Royal and Derngate, Northampton at Hackney Empire), The Hours (Metropolitan Opera, NY).

Flo O’Mahony is a theatre director, and Artistic Director for Zoo Co. Recent directing work includes Follow the Signs (Associate Director, Soho Theatre), Messy (UK tour), Sirens (Greenwich Theatre + UK tour, winner of Three Week's Editor's Choice Award), Different Owners at Sunrise (Roundhouse) and Manimals (Sold out UK run, Canadian digital tour). Forthcoming work includes Night Shift, working alongside Brian Duffy to create a production in BSL and spoken English, and Bossy (Co-director, UK Tour).

Lee Simpson is a founding member of Improbable, a Comedy Store Player and one of Paul Merton's Impro Chums. He’s also been a croupier, cinema projectionist and breakfast show DJ. He’s written plays, appeared in sit-coms and in some films, been on some Radio 4 panel shows and once did a very poor poodle act at the London Palladium. He feels this lack of direction is the essence of his work. His real name is Len.

Listings information

Perfect Show for Rachel
Zoo Co
The Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award 2022
Directed by Rachel O’Mahony
Artistic Director of Zoo Co and Lead Artist: Flo O’Mahony
Senior Producer: Olivia Munk
Community Producer: Sarah Verghese
Access Manager: Fleur Rooth
Personal carer to Rachel: Wendy O'Mahony
Lead Artist, Performer and Facilitator: Lee Simpson
Set and Costume Design by Stella Backman
Lead Technical Designer (Video and Lighting): Rachel Sampley
Musical Director: Mark Aspinall
Integrated BSL Performer: Becky Barry
Production Manager: Chloe Stally-Gibson
Acting Stage Manager and Sound Designer: Nick Gilbert
BSL and Fight Director: Brian Duffy
Access Support Worker: Maria Laumark
Fri 18–Sat 26 Nov 2022 (8 performances)
The Pit
7pm; also 2pm on Sat 19 and Sat 26 Nov 2022; no performances on Mon 21, Tue 22, and Wed 23 Nov; 2pm only on Sun 20 Nov 2022
1 hour 10 mins/no interval
£18 plus booking fee; £5 Young Barbican tickets available
Press performance: Sat 19 Nov 2022, 7pm
All performances are Relaxed, and will include creative captioning, live captioning, and an integrated BSL performer in the cast

Presented and co-produced by the Barbican

Supported by Improbable and Arts Council England