Theatre review: If these Spasms Could Speak

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Robert Softley has been an increasingly impressive presence on the Scottish stage for almost a decade, as writer and performer.


If These Spasms Could Speak

Arches, Glasgow

Never before, though, has he created a show so clearly focussed on the subject of disability, and the way it shapes his life, as this new 60-minute solo piece, presented as part of this year’s Behaviour festival at the Arches.

It’s not that Softley’s monologue deals exclusively with his own experience. Backed by soft, mainly monochrome images of himself and three other people with disability in their Glasgow homes, If These Spasms Could Speak melds Softley’s own experience – as a good-looking guy with severe cerebral palsy and a speech impediment – with that of a 3ft-tall woman, a young female wheelchair user and a man who has lived a lifetime with muscular dystrophy.

Amid all the show’s complex mesh of thoughts and memories, though – and a strong, sexy sense of the sheer value and beauty of life, however physically difficult – it’s Softley’s own voice that sings most clearly, and links most powerfully with the festival’s theme.

Every fragment of his behaviour, after all – from crawling on stage to take up his place in the spotlight, to stripping off at the behest of a remembered nosy doctor – is transformed, made harder, made new by his physical limitations. And in celebrating his own life, he makes us see our own, with completely fresh eyes.