Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Robert Softley Gale crawls onstage to give us the lowdown on his life and those of others who have a disability. He gently takes us through dealing with his life, his growing up and intersperses this with the views of others. Frequently warm, often comic it ends up being the most compelling piece of solo drama.
Robert enters crawling onto the stage in a suit. He starts by telling us that this is a show partly about him but that he had asked other people to tell him about their lives with a disability. He also talks of his speech impediment and how he encourages us to ask what we do not understand. He is happy to repeat. From that point we go through his upbringing, a fantastic discourse with a doctor that ends up with him taking the suit off, he startles a member of the audience (Not with taking his suit off) and dresses himself to continue the tale of others who may have been involved in dealing with their “conditions” on a daily basis. We laugh at how he is able to tell tales of his mother telling Grandpa where to go when he interfered, how one mother had the school to deal with because her daughter used her condition to be late for school and how intimacy for one paraplegic led to a level of verbal communication skills with which we would all struggle.
This is timed perfectly, delivered impeccably and has one of the most charming narrators I have had the privilege of sitting in front of for years. Gale’s theatricality is spot on. The video work is integral, his timing with the comedy and his self deprecating humour is as honest as it is sharp, his understanding of how to move and keep us fascinated is a performer’s style of telling the tale that never lessens its impact.
As you can imagine anyone who watches this performance could go away and be utterly patronising and say it is fantastic because it is some disabled bloke telling tales that are quite funny. To remove Robert’s key skill as a creative and as an actor would be cruel and shameful. As the father of a disabled actor I would hang myself if ever that was my response, but equally Robert is no advocate for the disabled. As he himself points out, we haven’t been fleeced for £400 for the privilege of attending an awareness seminar. Like all debates we should do it the courtesy of hearing as many voices as possible and not distil all our thoughts into the views of one token voice.
Robert transcends this problem by telling more than his story and being poignant and funny at either time. He can hold your attention, particularly when he knows how non PC his reasoning for certain things are – employment tribunals could be full soon! It is this high regard he has for his audience that means we are engaged and with him. There are no slackers here in the appreciation of the life he has led.
I can find nothing in terms of the theatricality of the event to fault. Everything had been considered and employed to the highest of standards with an assured performer onstage taking us by the head and the hand through a difficult and sensitive topic. For the record, Robert Softley-Gale sounds like Laurence Olivier, has smashing mammary glands and cerebral palsy.