Review: The Wheelchair on My Face, Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)

Sonya Kelly's story of a childhood spent struggling to see is unsentimental and funny
Sonya Kelly's story of a childhood spent struggling to see is unsentimental and funny
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“I’m so blind,” we all seem to say regularly, when we walk past a friend in the street without noticing them, or struggle to read the number of the approaching bus from the other end of the road.

Star rating: * * * *

It all rings hollow for actress and comedian Sonya Kelly who, in her own words, “really was that blind”. A struggle with severe pathological myopia meant that at the age of seven her glasses really were like goldfish bowls, the eponymous “wheelchair on my face”.

Kelly has worked with Irish theatre company, Fishamble – who brought Pat Kinevane’s award-winning play Silent to the Fringe last year – to create this show based on her childhood experiences. Almost incredibly, she reached the age of seven without being able to read a blackboard, or see a face clearly, unless she was inches away from it. Everyone thought she was an affectionate child, she says; in fact, she was just trying to get close enough to see them.

However, the cuddle-based strategy that her parents’ friends found so endearing didn’t work in primary school where she suddenly had to negotiate the politics of the classroom. It’s no wonder she preferred to talk to the members of Abba, who she believed lived in her wardrobe. Even when an eye test exposed the problem, it brought only a partial solution; now she faced another classroom stigma: wearing glasses.

Kelly’s play is a lively, often funny account of a childhood marred by a disability which goes too long undiagnosed. Her description of exploring the world as a young child is multisensory and vivid.

At the same time as treatment enables her to see the world clearly for the first time, she is also coming to understand things about the adult world: that the kind man in the hospital waiting room, for example, is more ill than she is.

She delivers her story without sentimentality, almost without drama. Instead of a triumph-over-the-odds-tale, she does something more understated, possibly more interesting: a story about coping with what life throws at you, and just being normal.

Until 27 August. Today 2:10pm.