Give me a reason to live

Tramway, Glasgow

Mary Brennan


Darkness, and an unseen voice is humming softly. The kind of low-key humming that hints at pain, or grief. When the shadows lift, we catch sight of a figure, garbed in grey, hooped over on a pair of crutches: Claire Cunningham, entering into a solo of such visceral intensity it will almost bruise your eyes to watch.

Give me a reason to live could well be subtitled "why should I not be allowed to live?" because of her source material: the paintings of Heironymous Bosch - where beggars and cripples are emblematic of sin - and the Nazi regime of the 1930's and 40's where the disabled and mentally ill were edited out of society through enforced euthanasia. It's against this kind of inhumanity that Cunningham stages her litany of physical defiance, shifting from a cruciform balance on her crutches to episodes of determined brinkmanship where she holds airborne positions that ache with the cost of striving to stay upright, undiminished.

If these durational holds are harrowing to watch - Cunningham is pushing her limbs, her crutches into a new calligraphy of confrontation with centuries of hostile prejudice - the moment when she strips down to just vest and pants hits even harder. "Here I stand, I can do no other." Martin Luther's words hang unspoken as Cunningham stands, without crutches, unflinching before us, vulnerable yet clothed in dignity. That opening hum is revisited at the end, but now - as Cunningham is pinned against the wall, like a struggling butterfly - her voice soars high and angelic in Bach's Den Tod. There is so much heart and intellect, courage and integrity here: Cunningham pushes boundaries not just for disability rights, but for us all.