Photography: Holly Revell

Behind The Scenes: Perfect Show For Rachel

Theatre, Interviews, Theatre, Accessible performances

Meet Flo O’Mahony, the Artistic Director ripping up the theatre-making rulebook for her sister to take the wheel at directing, in real-time...

Flo, Croydon-based Artistic Director to the multi-award-winning accessible theatre company, Zoo Co., stepped aside for her sister Rachel, an enigmatic, learning disabled theatre lover, to take over directing using a custom-built tech desk – and they made a critically acclaimed show in the process.

Perfect Show For Rachel – coming to Brighton Festival this May – was inspired by a spontaneous car ride when, for the first time in Rachel’s life, she had the tools to take control and communicate with Flo in a way that was new to them both.

We needed to find out more...

All production photography: Danny Khan

Tell us about the fateful car journey that inspired Perfect Show For Rachel.

When I passed my driving test, one of the first journeys I took was with Rach in the passenger seat and no destination in mind. I asked her where she wanted to go. ‘Turn left’ she would bark at me, cackling. We’d turn left. ‘Turn right’ she’d giggle. I’d follow.

Soon enough, she realised I was taking her directions seriously; the giggling turned to focus. Rachel was leading a detailed tour of places we used to go as tiny kids. At each place, we’d talk about what the place means to us; these aren’t conversations we usually get to have.

[Rachel] took me on an intricate tour of important places from our childhood that she couldn’t have spoken about without being able to point at them. I was left with the overwhelming knowledge that Rachel is a much better, clearer and more specific storyteller than I’ll ever be.

After this realisation, how did the show start taking shape?

[Facilitator] Lee Simpson and I spent the past 7 years wondering what might happen creatively if Rachel were authentically in charge. We spent a lot of time in Brighton Dome, trying out different ways of working with Rachel, so Brighton has been a big part of the journey of this show; it’s one of Rachel’s favourite places.

This involved years of thinking, research and development, failing and getting to know Rachel in a much deeper way. Everything we’ve done since then has been about us trying to capture Rachel’s story, and creativity, in a way that we can share.

Can you tell us more about what audiences can expect?

One night could feasibly be 60 minutes of fart jokes and nothing else.

One night we might watch a video of Rachel riding a bike 17 times, and people might get very bored. Rachel's idea of perfect art is after all very different to mine, or yours.

One night, Rachel might not come.

And, each night, I get about 5 minutes at the start of the play to tell you why that’s going to be ok, to bridge the gap between what you are expecting and what you will get instead, to let you know that no one has the steering wheel but Rachel, before I am usurped by my unapologetic and entirely unafraid big sister.

It is entirely overwhelming to me that this show is something completely out of my own control; it isn’t lost on me that Rachel got a five-star review in the Guardian long before I have. And that she couldn’t care less about that.

What are you hoping people will take away from the show?

My biggest hope is that people go away and think about the ‘Rachels’ in their own life; you might have someone who you think of as ‘different’ to you. Your nan with dementia, your kid with ADHD, your mate who’s autistic. I hope this show gives you a second to think about what it might be like to spend one hour, even, stepping more wholeheartedly into those worlds, rather than asking them to be more like you.

Or maybe you might go away and dream of what the perfect hour for YOU might look like, and you might let yourself indulge in it somehow, or even invite other people to meet you there.

We’re thrilled to have you with us this year! How are you feeling about it?

I can’t wait to bring Perfect Show For Rachel to Brighton, a place that both personally and creatively has so much of mine and Rachel’s journey wrapped up in it! The Brighton Festival is a melting pot of bold, brave, brilliant ideas and experiments. To be opening the Corn Exchange with our show is so deeply exciting.

With rave reviews from The Times and The Stage...

Book Now