The First to Go
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, Fri 23 & Sat 24 May then touring
British audiences nearly got to see The First to Go in 2002. Actor and playwright Nabil Shaban had the commission from Battersea Arts Centre and the government had pledged £50,000 of its special funds for the European Year of the Disabled. Trouble was, war had just broken out in Iraq and Shaban, a long-time political campaigner, was unprepared to take the government’s shilling.
‘There would have been a photo opportunity of me with a government minister handing me the cheque,’ says Shaban, 55, who came to the UK aged three to get treatment for brittle bone disease. ‘I felt morally obliged to give the cheque back in protest at the war.’
It means that the play, which he started writing in 1996, is only now being produced. The irony is that the subject matter – what he calls the ‘disabled holocaust’ – is already a hidden story. If it wasn’t for Edinburgh’s Benchtours, the little explored history of the Nazi’s first victims would have been hushed up for even longer. ‘The story has never been told from a disabled person’s point of view,’ says Shaban. ‘Most people don’t realise the gas chambers were invented to kill disabled people. Hitler worried that, because they were killing disabled Aryans, the public would get upset, so they stopped the gassings and continued to kill them quietly with syringes.’