The secret under the sheets

DISABILITY is not a laughing matter.

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Amy Conachan and James Young star in Wendy Hoose, at the Tron from March 7-15. Picture: Jamie Simpson
Amy Conachan and James Young star in Wendy Hoose, at the Tron from March 7-15. Picture: Jamie Simpson

Is it? Well, it can provide the backdrop for a comedy play, if handled cleverly, sensitively - and you have an actress who's braver than a pride of lions.

Amy Conachan is the star of next week's Tron Theatre rom-com, Wendy Hoose, which tells the story of two young hormonally-charged young people, Laura and Jake (James Young) who connect on an internet dating site.

After sharing pictures and information, the pair arrange to meet at Laura's flat, where Jake discovers Laura - a very attractive young lady- already in her thick-duveted bed, wearing the sort of underwear that wasn't designed to keep the wearer warm.

Some very descriptive sex talk ensues, and as they progress to the physical stage, Jake makes a startling discovery.

In fact 'startling' doesn't even come close to describing his reaction. He's aghast. He's confused. He's horrified.Because Laura has no legs.

However, does Amy feel vulnerable about exposing her disability to the world?

The actress was born without legs. Or rather, she does have legs but they are tiny and non-functional. But it's not a condition she says she dwells on. She's certainly not defined by her physicality.

"Oh God, no," she says, emphatically. "I've got a very nice life. And so far I've achieved everything I've set out to. I don't see myself as disabled. I can do everything my friends can. I just can't walk around, but I've got a car."

The 23-year-old has no problem featuring her physical condition in the name of theatre comedy.

"I thought the script was really funny, so that was really important," says Amy.

"And while Laura is vulnerable, she also has a maturity. And it's been nice to play with that. What's also been great is to work with material that is controversial."

That's a little bit of an understatement. The play asks some very powerful questions.

How quickly do we prejudge people? Can someone be extremely desired one moment - and dismissed the next? Can a woman - or a man -without legs be deemed sexy?

"Yes, it does ask these questions," says Amy. "And in a funny way. I think everyone judges people on first impressions. I know I do.

"So it doesn't bother me if the first thing people see when they look at me is my wheelchair.

"What I do know is that it takes people a couple of weeks to get used to me. Then they forget and they don't see the chair anymore. And that means a lot to me."

But does the play's content hold up a mirror to her own life? After all, she is an attractive young women (currently single).

"Well, there's not a lot that goes on in this play which I've actually experienced in my own life," she says, laughing.

"I've never tried one of these dating sites. But it does make me think if I did try meeting someone this way, what would the consequences be?"

She adds, with a wry smile: "This play is about judging books by covers, but it's also about looking at the difference between someone's initial reaction to how they go on from there. It's about how the physicality is important in the beginning then watching to see if someone's whole perceptions can change.

"Or not," she adds, with a mischievous smile.

Johnny McKnight, who came up with the premise for the play based on his own internet dating experiences, has lots of clever fun with the two characters, batting around the notions of duplicity and honesty.

The dialogue is cheeky, brittle, warm and funny.

For example, Laura didn't deceive Jake in her texts. Jake: 'How are you?' Laura: 'Legless.'

"But it is very sexually explicit," says Amy. "I've played either little girls or very strong women in theatre, so this is very different.

"And I'm wee bit concerned about what my parents would think."

Amy became interested in acting after her twin sister Joanne began dance classes.

"My mum asked what I'd like to be involved with so I began going to drama classes in Erskine and PACE in Paisley and I loved it.

"And I came to think I'd like to make it a career."

Amy was determined. Now in her second year at the Royal Conservatoire, she applied five times before being accepted.

"I hadn't much experience in the beginning, so I had to get that."

SHE joined Birds of Paradise, a theatre company which promotes the work of deaf and disabled artists, and managed to land work experience with the touring production of The Wickerman, which is where she met writer/actor/director Johnny McKnight.

Johnny had been thinking about a rom-com, then when he met Amy he came up with the notion - what if one of the couple were disabled?

He teamed up with Birds of Paradise director Robert Softley Gale and the result is Wendy Hoose. And while the subject matter deals with disability, this play, as rehearsals reveal, is a million miles away from being worthy.

"It's not dictating to society how it should behave.

"That's definitely true"," says Amy. "It's about two people. Jake discovers Laura has no legs and it's important to the play, but only in the sense it's then two people in a room who have to decide if they can move on from there.

"In every other way it's the story of every couple who meet for the first time. And how awkward it can be."

Awkward? That's not the half of it. It's very ... descriptive. Which is where the bravery comes in.

"You're right," says Amy, laughing. "I think I may have to bar my dad from coming to see it."

l Wendy Hoose, Tron Theatre March 7-15

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