Blog: Cian Binchy

The ITV star talks about how people treat him like a child because he has autism, and how his new role is shining a light on society’s treatment of disabled people

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I have autism and a learning difficulty. As a result, people often treat me like I haven’t developed any further than childhood, and seem to prefer to see me as a child trapped inside an adult’s body. Society wants me to be asexual and to have no desire to move on with my life, and people often assume that I’m not going to understand the things in life that are simple or accessible.

My desire to share this feeling with people has led to my current performance in Madhouse Re:exit, an immersive experience that looks at how society has treated learning disabled people throughout the ages, and how it feels to have a learning disability today. It’s led by myself and four other learning disabled artists, and has just had a sell-out run in London.

In Madhouse Re:exit I play a giant baby trying to negotiate the benefits system. It’s a bit of a piss-take, but this isn’t a normal “play”. With the show we wanted to get up close and personal with people, so this is more like an experience. As an audience you go on a journey through the old arches and passageways underneath Barton Arcade, and you meet different characters with learning disabilities. And we try to express a bit about how we feel about living in society today. People with learning disabilities don’t get listened to enough by society, so we’re making a stand with this show. We’re telling people to listen, to get involved, to look first hand at how ridiculous it is that people treat us this way.

What I learned through the process of developing Madhouse Re:exit was shocking and felt very personal. We explored the history of institutions – how people with learning disabilities were locked up for life in long-stay hospitals. A lot of residents were not diagnosed with anything – they were just characterised as generally “feeble-minded”, as they said then, generally like an idiot, and were locked away for life. People were treated very badly in those homes. They were often drugged for no reason at all other than to keep them docile. Often they developed “secondary handicaps” – usually mental health problems that developed as a specific result of their captivity. These hospitals only closed very recently, most of them in the 1990s, and there are still almost 3,000 people living in long-stay care now, drugged up and separated from family.

But even though most hospitals are closed, the same principle exists – now we’re locked up in our own homes. There used to be more support for people with learning disabilities to lead the lives they want, but that’s all disappearing now with the government’s hostile environment against disabled people. We’re not locked up in institutions anymore but, in some ways, it’s worse to be locked up in your own home. In institutions we at least had each other, whilst when you’re at home you’re basically … you’re very lonely and you’re left with nothing. It really effects my mental health. It’s very demoralizing and it makes me feel like a baby because society treats me that way. We’re denied the same opportunities as everyone else. So it’s a double problem, the way people treat me because of my autism and learning difficulty, and then the mental health problem.

But this can’t all be tragedy! We’re about to come to Manchester to perform in one of the city’s most exciting new venues, Brickworks, underneath St Ann’s Sq. It’s very exciting to get to share ideas this way. I want people to come to experience MADHOUSE re:exit and to laugh, to feel uplifted by empowering stories and to feel moved. But I do also want them to think “oh my goodness, you know, people with learning disabilities, we’ve really got to do our bit to help, all of us”. And that although I have a learning disability that I am entitled to have the same opportunities as everyone else in life.

It’s important that when someone else with a learning disability goes to the theatre, or watches TV or goes to the cinema, they see a character they can identify with and relate to. I’d like to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves. I do hope that in the future we will see more disabled people in the arts, and that it wouldn’t always have to be about them being disabled but for it to be about them being human beings like anyone else. I hope that Madhouse Re:exit is the start of a bit of a movement in this direction.

Madhouse Re:exit is at Barton Arcade, 17-26 May. Tickets available from thelowry.com

Interact: Responses to Blog: Cian Binchy

  • Ian Horton
    10 May 2019 14:56
    Hi Cian, your uncle Patrick mentioned you at work so I thought I'd take a look. You are very articulate and I love what you are doing and it would be great if I was able to see you perform sometime - I live in Farnham, Surrey so if you're ever doing a gig near there it would be great. All the very best for the future!

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