Wandsworth Fringe 2023 saw performance favourites Baked Bean return to the screen with their film Is it Just Me? at The Exhibit in Balham.
‘Is it Just Me’ was written and performed by young people with learning disabilities and it follows the story of a young woman called CJ as she navigates the transition into adulthood.
During the rehearsals for this production, government cuts meant that the age cut off for the Baked Bean youth theatre was lowered from 22 to 17, leaving many young people unable to take part.
The lack of support for people in this age bracket was a clear theme of the production, along with employment opportunities and frustrations with social workers.
Detailing some of his own experiences in a Q and A after the screening, one of the stars, Adam Mohammed, 21, said “it feels like hell” to have an unsupportive social worker.
In the film, CJ’s ambitions to own a business are beaten down by her social worker, who states that she has three options: “charity shop, bag packing or cleaning.”
She is interrogated about her relationships, to which she points out: “Other 18-year-olds don’t have to tell people about their personal life.”
CJ is also not trusted with her own money. Her social worker tells her: “We need to see you can be financially independent before we let you be financially independent.”
The theatre group were able to take control of these frustrating shared experiences and have their own say on the issues affecting them.
A highlight of the production was a rap which was written and eloquently performed by Fabian Ofori, 22.
One poignant line by the wordsmith was: “We are not puppets on a string, you have to let us be so we can do our thing.”
Speaking after the show, he told me of his ambitions to be both a music artist and an actor.
He said: “If I were to give my younger self some advice it would be that fame doesn’t happen in a day or a week, you have to start from the bottom.”
Several Bean members across the organisation have gone on to be extras in high-profile TV shows, including The Crown. Many of the current youth theatre group are also keen to get into the industry.
At the end of the film, each cast and crew member was asked what they wanted to be in future. Answers ranged from social worker to staff at Baked Bean, showing just how much of an impact the group has had on them.
Adam could not praise the staff enough, he said: “This company is amazing. All those years we have had I am never going to forget in my life.”
Baked Bean have a show week from the 18 July and tickets can be booked here.
Featured image credit: The Baked Bean Charity