FringeReview Scotland 2016
Director Robert Softley Gale provides us with a series of artistic and comic musings on the effects that cerebral palsy has had on the lives of people with the condition with the help of others, most of whom have the condition. It begins with 4 men talking directly to us before each takes us in episodic form through elements and events in their lives which have shaped their world views. From those who have experienced such profound events as trying to dress as they grew to those who fell in love and are still with their partner after many years it touches and spills into parts of you, asking for understanding, comprehension, respect whilst advocating for the banishment of pity.
Laurence, Colin, Jim and Pete are our four guides for the evening. They tell wonderful stories throughout the piece with set opportunities for each to talk directly to us or through live video feed. For the deaf community Amy Cheskin is the BSL interpreter who is part of the ensemble and fully, at times, integrated into the piece. The action also has a number of movement pieces interspersed throughout which are additional gems amongst the narrative.
Gale, in his notes, talks of how the unwritten rule of being a disabled artist is that you can’t focus too much on your impairment. Clearly avoiding that pitfall and embracing his condition is part of his creative being. This is the latest in his exploration of cerebral palsy and what it adds to our understanding of the arts. This is commendable and there is much here to admire. It is however as creative and artistic expression it must be judged. Full stop.
The problem that I have with it is partly that I preferred his other work. In any study of Scottish theatre whilst this ought to be prescribed viewing, I wanted much more.
Perhaps one area where I felt a little at odds with myself is that I had the impression that one actor, who was able to sit at one point and contemplate the audience without any purposeless movement, may not have the condition. Forget the debate about non-disabled actors taking jobs that are disabled parts, if I am right this is one theatrical opportunity missed. I would have been all for him walking down at the end and blowing his cover to show up our prejudices.
The cast were however wonderful and all four gave performances that were never less than remarkable. I would, however, make specific mention of Amy Cheskin. She gave us insight and a benchmark performance as to how to integrate BSL into a show. I have long thought that support workers and interpreters could be the unsung collaborative heroes of the stage and here she shows just how to get interpretation into the DNA of a piece; Amy and Gale are to be congratulated heartily. Equity and Birds of Paradise should talk and try and get more interpreters into and onto stages and out those silly spotlights.
The music that accompanied the piece was an absolute joy and I loved how it became muse to the movement and took centre stage as the backdrop; ever present and never missed but not overwhelming.
I also found myself a little uneasy over the theatre arts. One of the joys of the Tramway is Brook’s wall; it is not however a good place onto which to project. The subtitles are less engaging than they were in Wendy Hoose; much of them missing the comedy timing needed for maximum laughs here. The storyline is somewhat all over the place and the nature of the beast means that this is to be expected but I hoped for more of an overall structure and perhaps less rambling; I found If These Spasms Could Speak more enthralling.
Technically this was a show where a lot technically was going on and it is unfair to judge things on the preview night that I saw it. Nevertheless, at one point Amy looked like she should be interpreting into a camera and there was no feed up on the wall – led to confusion.
Nevertheless I liked it. In fact, I liked it a lot and there was plenty there that made me wonder and continued my education and to challenge me; its purpose, if you pardon the pun, was well served. It is, of course, wrong to throw all your disabled eggs (or CP omelettes) into one basket and judge one production as the only one worth seeing on a particular topic or from a specific theatre company; we should see everything as progressional and developmental. As such I thought it took the company many steps forward and a few a little back but nonetheless if you don’t get a chance to go and see this, you really have missed out; and I’m not having a laugh…