Thursday 21 September 2017

Funny and arresting stories told with energy and charm

If These Spasms Could Speak, Project Arts Centre

Project Arts Centre, East Essex Street, Temple Bar
Project Arts Centre, East Essex Street, Temple Bar

John McKeownI

The spasms of the title are those suffered by writer and performer Robert Softley, disabled from birth by cerebral palsy.

Softley, who comes crawling on to a raised platform set with a plush comfy chair, is at pains to make his condition speak, and - with a mild dose of gallows humour, energetic charm, and convincingly live reflection - largely succeeds.

There's nothing new about a disabled person making light of their condition, but then there's only one Robert Softley, a feisty independent Scot who revels in rule-breaking, and isn't shy about asking for what he wants. His neatly-constructed hour-long monologue is full of funny and arresting anecdotes drawn from a life far longer than he expected to live.

From his mother's somewhat unorthodox method of helping him to eat without spraying food around the room, to his own inspired method of dealing with his teenage daughter's penchant for slamming her bedroom door.

While there's plenty of humour, some of it physical, involving audience participation with firearms and helping him undress, there's bleakness too. While visiting his severely asthmatic brother in hospital, Softley is approached by a coldly quizzical young doctor who subjects him to a relentless box-ticking exercise which he's too polite, or entranced to refuse. We hear the doctor, on tape, bludgeoning him with his chillingly insensitive questions from the lofty heights of medical objectivity.

Softley is at his most unsentimentally affecting when describing how his body does exactly the opposite of what he intends, most maddeningly when he's with a lover and simply relishing the "joy of being in someone's arms".

Also appealing is the ardency with which he reflects on his condition. "I used to think everything was about my disability, but it isn't."

Elsewhere he says his disability is part and parcel of himself, "who he is." It's somewhat self-contradictory. Just like the rest of us flawed able-bodied types.

Irish Independent

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