“Don’t try and look past my impairment to see the “real me”. I am what you see.”
Birds of Paradise Theatre Company comes to the Traverse this month, bringing their eye-opening and moving theatre dance piece, Purposeless Movements.
Written and Directed by Robert Softley Gale, Purposeless Movements tells the stories of four men with cerebral palsy. Softley Gale’s work in the Scottish art scene is established and varied – before becoming an Artistic Director at Birds of Paradise in 2013, he had over ten years of experience as a disability rights activist, actor and performer, writer, and advocate of equality of access to the arts for disabled people. His passion for the arts and equalities for disabled people is clear in Purposeless Movements – completely performed by actors with cerebral palsy, the production explores a side to disability which is unfortunately rarely fully shown fully in theatre.
What is most striking about the piece is the joy which it exudes. Softley Gale writes of the writing and rehearsal process “the inappropriate jokes and camaraderie created some joyous moments, so tonight it’s my desire to put some of that on stage, to see if the joy came from similar experiences, of navigating the world with cerebral palsy, or just from being”. It is this which is so awe-inspiring about the piece. While the production centrally shows and explores CP, it also tackles the sense of being, especially as a young man. The piece tackles not just disability, but also subtly and effectively weaves in issues of equality, masculinity, sexuality and ‘coming-of-age’. Purposeless Movements is a celebration of life and diversity, all the while managing to comment on societal prejudices in a way which is not just satirical and truly funny, but also genuinely strong and distinctive.
The work of the actors, Laurence Clark, Colin Young, Jim Fish and Pete Edwards should be especially applauded. They navigate the text and character physicality with humour and skill, allowing us to invest in the stories they are telling and the people they are portraying. They manage to work as a close-knit ensemble, while also showing individuality and difference between the four. What is offered up is a diverse group of people, with a shared experience. They must be lauded for the complexity and depth they bring to their depictions.
This is fully allowed by the simplicity of the set and interesting lighting designs. As a physical theatre piece, the bare stage with simply a brick wall back drop lets audience focus solely on the performers and become wrapped up in their lives. This is added to by lighting and a live soundscape by Kim Moore and Scott Twynholm, which slickly creates atmosphere and interest, enhancing the overall piece.
Ultimately, Purposeless Movements, achieves the real aim of theatre. It is not only entertaining, but also educational, offering up a new perspective on the world around us, and challenging preconceived ideas and notions. If you have the chance to see it, the experience comes highly recommended. You will be entertained, challenged, and moved.
Birds of Paradise will be touring Purposeless Movements in Scotland through to the middle of March.
As part of Disabled Access Day on Saturday 12 March, the Traverse Theatre will also be hosting free accessible backstage tours. Backstage tours will offer a sneak peek behind the scenes giving you the opportunity to learn about the history of Scotland’s new writing theatre, play with props and hear about our current productions, all whilst finding out more about the Traverse Theatre’s year-round audience experience for those with access requirements.