There’s a beautiful symmetry to this new production from Glasgow-based Birds of Paradise Theatre Company; the start and end deliberately remind us that the four disabled men on stage are professional actors. Yet they bring a personal reality to the work; each has cerebral palsy, what Wikipedia describes as a “group of permanent movement disorders”, symptoms of which “include poor coordination, stiff muscles, weak muscles, and tremors”. Or, to put it another way, what medical practitioners have long termed “purposeless movements”.
Purposeless Movements is a surprisingly funny show, albeit with a serious intent
Their uniquely individual ways of moving are emphasised from the start, as they each make their way from the distant rear of the stage up to the illuminated microphones at the front; Colin Young and Jim Fish on their feet, Laurence Clark and Pete Edwards in their wheelchairs. There’s no hiding from what this show is about.
Admittedly, writer/director Robert Softley Gale certainly makes it clear: at one point Laurence – best known to many as a comedian – explains that people with CP often try to make non-disabled people laugh in order to deflect any unease about their “jerky movements”. Which, of course, is exactly what the whole show has been doing from the start, when the four performers – given their varying levels of clear diction – initially asked: “Are they having a laugh?”
Yes, but in a good way. Purposeless Movements is a surprisingly funny show, albeit with a serious intent: to focus on the “honesty of this body” and how none of us should attempt to look “past” impairments to find the “man inside” but rather accept that those impairments are an integral part of who they are. “I am what you see” is one of the prominent “chapter headlines” – or potential campaign slogans, take your pick – projected onto the rear wall. (That’s in addition to the words spoken by the cast, of course; Birds of Paradise are always keen to integrate accessibility fully into their productions. This also explains the delightful presence of Amy Cheskin, officially on stage as a British Sign Language Interpreter, but who frequently joins in with the action and choreography.)
Much of the show is drawn from the cast’s own experiences, which gives everything a firm grounding: Colin explaining his meeting with a patronising Equalities Minister; Laurence on how his second child, as a baby, found the jerky movements of someone with CP far more soothing than the gentle motions from a non-disabled babysitter; Pete – arguably with the most extreme CP, which requires him to be strapped into his wheelchair – wondering if it was perhaps time he stopped asking why his male partner of four years wanted to be with him.
Beautifully lit by Neil Foulis, Purposeless Movements also benefits from having a live soundtrack – composed and performed live by Scott Twynholm, with Kim Moore – that ably supports, focuses and underpins the physical and emotional actions presented on stage. Overall, this is a genuinely engaging, touching and amusing production providing an honest, eye-openingnight to remember.