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Deborah Caulfield's blog - disability arts online
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Disability Arts Online

Two legs good enough. One leg irrelevant. / 15 May 2012

The Steadfast Tin Soldier - the show.

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Listed in DAO’s job opportunities is an advert by Peut-être Theatre.

They’re looking for a disabled male dancer/actor for their next Xmas show for children, a dance-theatre version of Hans Christian Andersen's The Steadfast Tin Soldier.

The ad says: ‘In the story the tin soldier only has one leg and so, to honour the story, we are hoping to work with a dancer who also only has one leg.’

I am wondering who will respond. I daresay some will jump (hop?) at the opportunity to work.

So will they be required to perform without their prosthesis the whole time? I’m very concerned about this.

I expect non-amputees will apply, on the basis that, like Dudley Moore in the One Leg Too Few sketch he performed with Peter Cook, it’s a simple matter to tuck the unwanted and superfluous limb behind, up inside their coat.

However, I doubt this would convince Peut-être. The ad asks for a photo, suggesting they are not planning on being fobbed off by frauds or wannabe amputees.

If I was awarding points for inclusion, I’d give Peut-être ten out of ten for recruiting a disabled person for the lead role. Then I’d deduct ten points for picking The Steadfast Tin Soldier, because it detracts from, if not negates, the company's attempt at authenticity and equality.

Having just read it (twice) I am not sure to what extent the toy soldier’s one-leggedness is pivotal.

Key to The Steadfast Tin Soldier's story, as I see it, is that he stays rock-solid, despite his life threatening ordeal, in which, among other things, he falls out of a window and is chased by a huge rat. He's a survivor. So far so positive.

The little uniformed chap is totally smitten with the paper ballet dancer, queen of the cardboard castle. Unfortunately, he’s unable to communicate with her. All he can do is look.

His chronically low self esteem is counter-balanced by a strong sense of duty. Nothing induces him to part with his rifle, which remains resolutely pointed over his shoulder throughout.

Despite his suffering, this military mite never complains, believing it to be beneath his station to express his needs. This is a very bad message for a disabled character.

I urge Peut-être's writer or director to exercise some artistic license and reinstate the missing leg. The story will lose none of its meaning and entertainment value if the main character has the full set of lower limbs, like his 24 compatriots.

No one will notice. It won’t make any difference to the fate of the little man. His bravery and fearlessness is due to his being a highly trained killing machine, fiercely loyal to queen, country and horrible little boys. His leglessness is irrelevant.

Moreover, the story is not short of tear-jerking moments. We have the evil troll who is very likely responsible for all the bad things that happen to the hero, a flimsy damsel with whom he falls in love, and a big fish that gobbles him up and is then gutted.

The story is typical of the triumph-over-tragedy genre that is responsible for much of the negative stereotyping of disability. However, unlike that other Hans Andersen hero, The Ugly Duckling, The Steadfast Tin Soldier does not triumph, unless you consider it to be a good outcome to burn to death next to the object of your unrequieted love.

Keywords: children's theatre,peter cook and dudley moore,stereotype,the steadfast tin soldier,the ugly duckling,theatre