Purposeless Movements | Tramway, Glasgow | Rating ****
What starts as the story of four men with cerebral palsy ends as a show about four human beings, although crucially we’re not being asked to see past the impairment to the “man inside”, but to see the whole person, with each twitch and jerk as much a part of them as the words they say. To quote the projected commentary: “I am what you see.”
For years, writer and director Robert Softley Gale followed the unwritten rules of life as a disabled artist – namely, don’t focus too heavily on your own impairment. Pushing those rules to one side, and joining forces with a wonderful team of performers, he has created a show which lets outsiders in.
Whether it’s Colin telling us about his experience of a patronising Equalities Minister, Jim recalling his first crush (who loved him back, but only like a brother), Laurence, whose well-meaning support worker tried to teach him how to ask people out, or Pete, whose need for privacy as a teenager was no different from everyone else’s, the personal stories are engaging, touching – but most of all, funny.
Laurence later explains that making us laugh is their way of “ingratiating” themselves with the rest of the world – “if you’re laughing, you won’t be so freaked out by our jerky movements”. He should know, having had six successful solo stand-up shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. Whatever the reason behind the humour, there’s a huge amount of it here, and it’s real laugh-out-loud stuff.
Sitting alongside all this wit, charm and pathos, is a live soundtrack which adds an extra layer to all of those qualities. Composed and performed by Scott Twynholm and Kim Moore, the music and song is an integral, and often beautiful, part of the show’s emotional integrity. As is the presence of Amy Cheskin, who is credited in the programme for her British Sign Language but brings a whole lot more to the table.
As audiences, what we see on stage and screen becomes the norm, and Birds of Paradise Theatre Company continues to play a pivotal role in moving us firmly away from the idea that the disabled performers we see on stage are “inspirational”, showing us instead that they’re just doing their job, like every other professional performer.
“Which of my movements has no purpose?” asks one performer, explaining how “purposeless movements” is the medical term doctors used during their childhood diagnosis. At the start of the show, it would be easy to categorise much of what we see as spasms which indeed serve no purpose. By the end, the opposite is true. Everything is an expression of something, whether you’ve been diagnosed with cerebral palsy or not.
• Traverse, Edinburgh, 2-4 March; Eden Court, Inverness, 16 March