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> > > Review: Unlimited: an evening of film in the Southbank Centre
photo of musician jez colbourne setting off a loud siren under a huge sky

Still of Jez Colbourne from the opening title of the documentary 'Total Permission'

'Total Permission' follows conductor Charles Hazlewood, founder of the British Paraorchestra, as he encounters the artistry within 12 of the Unlimited commissions. Nina Muehlemann went to the launch of the film at the Southbank Centre on 6 February

The Unlimited film evening was a reunion of sorts: The artists, collaborators and audience members of the Unlimited festival came together at London’s Southbank Centre again, 5 months after the festival, to watch Push Me’s 30 minute documentary Total Permission.

Wendy Martin, Head of Performance and Dance at the Southbank Centre welcomed the audience and announced that two productions that were part of Unlimited will have another outing in their Women of the World Festival in March, namely CripTease and Ménage A Trois.

She then introduced the film ‘Total Permission’, which follows conductor Charles Hazlewood, founder of the British Paraorchestra, as he discovers 12 of the Unlimited productions and interviews some of the artists. Watching Charles on his journey, I could almost feel the excitement and buzz again that had accompanied the festival. He marvelled at the musical beauty of Jez Colborne’s sirens, and talked about how Sue Austin had changed his perception of the wheelchair with her enchanting underwater piece. He then goes on to talk about discovering new ways of moving or perceiving movement with Caroline Bowditch and Claire Cunningham.

Total Permission also showed how each Unlimited commission strived to push the artists outside of the box to find new perspectives on their working methods. The film saw the artists and audience members giving feedback on their experience during the festival. The film conveys the buzz the festival created and the spirit of generosity between artists and audience.

After the film was a panel discussion, hosted by Jo Verrent, who co-curated the documentary with Sarah Pickthall. Joining her was Tony Heaton, CEO of Shape, with Unlimited artists Bobby Baker and Sue Austin, and Luke Pell, who facilitated many of the talks and discussions during the Unlimited festival. Everyone shared their experiences of the festival.  What emerged, again, was the wonderful sense of community – artists watching each other’s performances, audience members coming to the festival again and again – leaving the strongest, and happiest, memories for everyone. Both Bobby Baker and Sue Austin highlighted the importance of supporting Disability Arts, and that previous programmes who did this, like Sync, were a huge part of the reason why Unlimited was such a success. Luke Pell added that it was important to acknowledge that the festival, and the commissions, evolved from ‘a lifetime of practice’, and Tony Heaton mentioned the importance of supporting and recognising other artists who were not given an Unlimited commission.

An important discussion topic was the question of legacy: as the Arts Council was not present at the event, Wendy Martin, read out an announcement: £1,500,000 will be provided by the Arts Council during the next three years for the commissioning and presentation of Disability Arts work alongside a mentoring programme. This was greeted with enthusiasm by Luke Pell, Jo Verrent and Sue Austin. Meanwhile, Tony Heaton and Bobby Baker were a bit more cautious and curious about the details of this commitment from the Arts Council.

It remains to be seen how far that money will stretch to make sure that artists get supported and the fantastic work, which was done during the Unlimited, is not being forgotten. The evening showed that both Push Me and the Southbank Centre are doing great work to make disability arts, and especially Unlimited commissions, accessible to a wide audience, which is definitely a reason for optimism.

Total Permission features Sue Austin, Bobby Baker, Caroline Bowditch, Laurence Clark, Jez Colborne, Claire Cunningham, Rachel Gadsden, Graeae, Stumble danceCircus, Simon McKeown, Ramesh Meyyappan and Janice Parker. To watch the film Total Permission go to An audio-described and subtitled versions of the film are available on the site.

For more information on the artists go to