Written and Directed by Robert Softley Gale with performers Laurence Clark, Jim Fish, Pete Edwards and Colin Young and with musicians Scott Twynholm and Kim Moore, this movement-based piece that tells the stories of five guys with cerebral palsy (CP). Sophie Partridge saw the show at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
As someone who tends to be `challenged’ by impairment-based work (and gives poor Mr. S-Gale notes on all his shows whether he asks for them or not!), I was keen to see this piece. Purposeless Movements revolves around four men who share their experiences of life and of cerebral palsy.
As I somehow ended up chairing the after-show discussion, I was able to ask “Why no women with purposeless movements?” Robert simply said that his intention was to explore the male experience of having CP, which seemed fair enough.
On the surface Purposeless Movements is quite formulaic (like much popular disability arts I’ve seen lately). There are funny bits and sad, all interspersed with music and movement. The captioned piece opens with the four performers stating in turn and as if repeating for the audience, in case anyone has somehow `misheard’, due to any of their impaired speech, that they are “professional actors, paid to say things; what a laugh.”
They then each pull poses as if a signature of their own individual relationship with CP. Again like much work I’ve seen lately, I relaxed thinking that this piece, too, was aimed at a non-disabled audience and, as an ‘ageing bendy’, I’d heard and knew it all before. I was wrong.
Moments of real tension begin to emerge. There’s something about watching wobbly bodies scrapping with each other; blows that choose their aim by purpose and / or chance. A body sandwich becomes the focus of much frustration; anger vocalised at ableist views; drinking straws flying in abundance as sharp as arrows.
And all the time the female SLI (Sign Language Interpreter) is present, sometimes in physical contact with the actors. Her movements are always controlled, always purposeful to convey the message she intends. A contrast in communication is established between the unintentional movements of the shaky / or impaired body in relationship to a still body. (I say that because although I don’t have cerebral palsy, I know non-disabled people read much from my physicality, which I don’t actually choose!).
Purposeless Movements was all about communication. The show highlights a contrast between the male, multi-layered unspoken language emanating from each performer and the non-verbal, exact and direct communication of the female signer. Would this have been different with an all female cast?
And who decides what is with purpose and what is without? We touched on this, in the discussion – for whose purpose are any movements – those moving or those interacting with any given movement? This also brought us to discuss permission. Is it okay for anyone to move in certain ways or in certain situations which in turn, brought us to focus on non-disabled actors ‘cripping up’ – is it all just part of ‘the act’?!
The piece ends as it began, with the four performers in a line repeating the opening phrase. Yet something has shifted; I’m suddenly aware my responses have completely altered due to a change in physicality. There has been a reveal! The transition brings the truth to bear in an instant, of everything that has been said in the prior 70 minutes… ‘purposeful movement’.