Francesca Martinez’s play examines the damage austerity has inflicted on Britain

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The audacious and sprawling investigation into the disability of performer-turned-playwright Francesca Martinez begins with a powerful reversal. We are so used to seeing people with disabilities receiving care. But here, Martinez plays Jess, a therapist with cerebral palsy who always cares for the people around her, starting with her vulnerable clients.

Bullish alcoholic Aidan (Bryan Dick) doesn’t believe anyone with cerebral palsy can help him, but soon they strike up a witty and teasing relationship. At home, Jess tends to her pregnant lesbian friend Lottie (Crystal Condie), listening to her wonder if she should get back together with her partner. But Jess’ endless patience is tested by 21-year-old Poppy (a wonderfully feisty Francesca Mills), who’s had enough of everything disabled people are supposed to put up with: especially after her PIP assessment cuts her night care, forcing her to bed at 9 p.m. in a diaper. Gradually, Poppy moves away from Jess’ doormat ways. Why shouldn’t people with disabilities be able to go out and party at night? Why should they beg for every crumb of help?

“All Of Us” seethes with righteous anger. It’s huge and ambitious, stretching to encompass many different types of experiences for people with disabilities. The main thing these people have in common is that they are all being screwed over by a government that would rather they didn’t exist. This culminates in a climactic confrontation with the local Tory MP who is totally in the grip of austerity ideology, willfully ignoring the fact that benefit cuts end up costing far more than they save.

But it also struggles under the weight of the ideas it explores, increasingly disjointed in its second act. There’s a banal candor in its efforts to flesh out this Tory MP’s backstory (his fledgling creative endeavors were crushed as a child) and it overexplains its characters’ emotional struggles.

Where it shines is showing how massive the mundane is for people with disabilities. Poppy and Jess don’t want to spend all their time worrying about what their PIP call will say, or when they can eat something that isn’t a cold cheese sandwich, dropped off by an overworked carer. But they are deprived of the opportunity to think about better and more interesting things by a system that limits care to brief 15-minute windows.

It’s inspiring to see how much the National Theater has invested in bringing so many artists with disabilities to the stage, at a time when their voices are so needed. And while director Ian Rickson can’t smooth out all the jagged edges of this piece, it’s a valuable addition to a conversation we need to keep having.

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